Monday, June 3, 2013

Tam Lin - Pamela Dean

Ok I lied.  I forgot I had a baked potato in the oven (and it is perfectly crispy!) eating isn't procrastinating (even if I am having dinner at midnight).  And now I'm reviewing, so that's good right?


Goodreads: In the ancient Scottish ballad "Tam Lin," headstrong Janet defies Tam Lin to walk in her own land of Carterhaugh . . . and then must battle the Queen of Faery for possession of her lover’s body and soul. In this version of "Tam Lin," masterfully crafted by Pamela Dean, Janet is a college student, "Carterhaugh" is Carter Hall at the university where her father teaches, and Tam Lin is a boy named Thomas Lane. Set against the backdrop of the early 1970s, imbued with wit, poetry, romance, and magic, Tam Lin has become a cult classic—and once you begin reading, you’ll know why. This reissue features an updated introduction by the book’s original editor, the acclaimed Terri Windling.


I'll be honest, I felt like I should have liked Tam Lin. And I tried, I really did.   First and foremost, you need to be a serious reader to get through the book.  The pacing is extremely slow and 80% of it is witty dialogue quoting literature and making obscure references.  It was also difficult to get into because it is set during college in the 70's, whereas I am currently doing my masters close to 40 years after this takes place, and it is amazing the changes between then and now.  It's not something I really thought much about until I was reading the novel and kept having questions about why things were being a certain way (like why she kept calling the dorm building...oh cell phones.  And birth control was still in it's early stages as far as the pill form goes).

Here are my biggest complaints:

Janet is extremely smart, focused, and worldly for an eighteen year old.  She talks like she is a graduate or doctoral student as do all of her friends.  I can speak from experience that while many of my undergraduate conversations freshman year were very specific to music (as this is my major), they were less debates and usually involved drinking and the statements "word" or "that's deep."  Not actual debates backed up with a variety of references.  At times this was like reading someone's thesis!  If they had made her about 5 years older at least I might have found this believable.  Despite the difference in era, teenagers haven't changed that much in my opinion.

It's clear who Janet is meant to be with: spoilers

The plot is extremely slow and so much time is spent on the first year - almost the whole book, and then everything else is brushed over.  However, Tor points out it is in following with the pacing of the ballad (you know the thing the entire novel is based on).

There are so many parts where the mystery is built up, but then it just disappears into another 50 pages of dialogue about Shakespeare.  It was so frustrating!  And then after all that build up, even after the pages and pages ignoring the mysteries, the resolution is so quick!  I think the climax and resolution are the most glossed over things I've ever read.

It was also very hard for me to relate to Janet.  She can be such a snob!  I felt bad for her poor roommate Christina who Janet really looks down upon just because she can't catch all the quotations from every obscure novel ever.  Or every Shakespeare line ever written.  I mean who CAN do that when they are 18?  I had an easier time relating to Christina who was much more like your average undergraduate student - smart, well-balanced, not necessarily rational 100% of the time.

What I did like was the witty dialogue (even if I found it pedantic at times) and the way Dean delves into literature and philosophy.  Even if I didn't like the balance (note: it was the entire novel) it was very interesting.  It was also refreshing to read a mature take on romance and sex after so many teen novels where it's the sudden unexplained attraction followed by loads of angst.  Even if I found Janet's rationality and maturity unconvincing for her age, it was nice to not have Mary Sues, etc.  That being said this IS a romance about a woman fighting for her man...and maybe the last 3 chapters are spent on that, whereas that is the subject matter for the whole ballad!  Overall, I would recommend this for more serious minded readers (or people like me who are REALLY into fairy tale retellings).  Otherwise I can't see this being for most readers due to the pedantic writing, slow plot, and very little real romance.

I will also add the disclaimer that I have enjoyed other works by Pamela Dean and this shouldn't deter you from exploring those!

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1 comment:

  1. I read this one ages and ages ago, and like you I thought I should be liking it a lot more than I did. But it was so long ago I don't remember why...just that it was very disappointing.


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