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Literature / A Fine and Private Place

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A Fine and Private Place is a fantasy novel by Peter S. Beagle, first published in 1960.

Jonathan Rebeck lives secretly in a large cemetery which he hasn't set foot out of in years, kept company by a talking raven that brings him food and by such ghosts as still take an interest. As the novel progresses, he becomes acquainted with the troubles of two recently-interred ghosts, Michael and Laura, and also encounters a living visitor to the cemetery who might give him reason to finally return to the land of the living.

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Not to be confused with the Ellery Queen novel of the same name.

This novel contains examples of:

  • Ambiguous Ending: Rebeck's plan to help Michael and Laura requires him to leave the cemetery. When he does, he loses the ability to see ghosts, so he — and thus the audience — has no way to know for sure whether the plan worked.
  • Artistic License – Ornithology: That a raven in a fantasy novel should be a bit out of the usual range for ravens is no big deal ... but a quick look at a field guide would have told the author that ravens are completely black, and do not have golden eyes, yellow bills or yellow feet.
  • Clever Crows: The raven helps and cares for Jonathan Rebeck, bringing him food and, later, news. Subverts the traditional creepiness of corvids; despite being a Talking Animal, the raven is one of the most down-to-earth and least eldritch things in the book.
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  • Conditional Powers: Rebeck's ability to see ghosts and speak with the raven is connected to his liminal existence in the cemetery; when he leaves at the end of the novel he loses both.
  • Dead to Begin With: Michael and Laura.
  • Did I Just Say That Out Loud?: Happens to Rebeck when Michael and Laura are arguing about which of them will last longest before fading away:
    "Oh, for God's sake," Mr. Rebeck thought, "shut up!"
    Not until he saw the astonished looks on their faces did he realize he had said it aloud.
  • Ghost Amnesia: Ghosts gradually forget their lives, and become less detailed and less definite in appearance as they forget what they looked like. Michael has an additional issue where, even newly-dead, he can't remember exactly how he died.
  • I See Dead People: Jonathan Rebeck.
  • Literary Allusion Title: "The grave's a fine and private place / But none, I think, do there embrace." (Andrew Marvell, "To His Coy Mistress")
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  • Our Ghosts Are Different
  • Suicide Is Shameful: Near the end of the book, it's revealed that Michael poisoned himself. As a result of this discovery, his body is to be removed from hallowed ground, also parting him from Laura.
  • Talking Animal: Rebeck can understand the raven's speech, although it's suggested that this is a consequence of Rebeck's condition and not a sign that the raven is anything special.

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