Reviews of Books You’ve Never Heard of: The Rhinoceros Who Quoted Nietzsche and Other Odd Acquaintances

What’s this then?:  How do you not grab a book with a title like The Rhinoceros Who Quoted Nietzsche and Other Odd Acquaintances.  This is a collection of short stories (and essays) by Peter S. Beagle, the author of The Last Unicorn.  There are five of Beagle’s fantasy stories, two early, realistic fiction pieces, and three journalistic pieces.  I do have to say I wish there had been more of the fantasy material and less of that other stuff. The pieces are all about relationships of some sort whether between a talking rhino (who thinks he’s a unicorn) and a philosophy professor, a young man and his werewolf girlfriend, or a father and his daughter, hence the “odd acquaintances” of the title.  I do like the idea of doing a retrospective which is also themed, but maybe more stories with less of a focus would have been better.

Well s’it any good?:  Yup.  I wouldn’t put it on your must read list per se, but if you’re looking for a collection of fantasy stories not of the elves and wizards type, or you’re curious about Peter Beagle, then this is well worth checking out.  Beagle excels at putting emotionally viable characters in his weird situations, which is an ideal formula for making fantasy believable.  Beagle is also a master of understatement.  He tends to present the fantastic in a straightforward way without the slightest sense of “wink wink nudge nudge.”  It works very well with these stories, but unfortunately, its easy to forget to be impressed with understatement.  If you do read these stories, please do take the time to note that Beagles playing it cool on purpose.

What’s the best bit?:  Probably “Professor Gottesman and the Indian Rhinoceros” which is the story the book’s title refers to. Professor Gottesman is not the most friendly sort but somehow he finds the friend he wants in a philosophically inclined Rhino.  If this kind of thing sounds charming to you, then you’ll probably like Beagle overall.  There’s “Come Lady Death” which is a noted predecessor to Neil Gaiman’s depiction of Death in Sandman.  Its a good story with a bit of a Twilight Zone twist at the end, but, again, stated quietly.  “My Daughter’s Name is Sarah” is a realist piece Beagle wrote early in his career, but is a good example of Beagle’s (even then already well developed) skill with characters’ emotions.  The journalistic pieces stuffed in the back are ok, but somewhat out of date, and not really required reading.

Anything Else:  It’s very hard not to think of Neil Gaiman while reading Beagle.  Indeed Gaiman has admitted his indebtedness to Beagle.  Both excel by making strange circumstances tangible through understatement.  And the student may actually surpass the teacher in some ways.   Both can amuse and charm, but only Gaiman can chill or shock.  Beagle, though, is much, much better at being poignant, so there’s your reason to go out and read him.

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Published in: on November 7, 2011 at 8:50 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I think it takes a true gift to just write the fantastic and be able to control the urge to “nudge nudge” and just assume your audience will follow you down the road of believing. Thanks for the write-up!

  2. I’m with you about the more fantasy part. I don’t usually like random collections like this because I often only enjoy parts. The title sure is catching though, that sweet rhino! I’d want to read the fantasy ones and the rhino bit, but probably not the rest. I wish I had endless time to read.

    -Eliabeth


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