Tam Lin by Pamela Dean

#36 in my book challenge for the year, and #12 in my summer reading challenge was Tam Lin by Pamela Dean. I started it once before, but had to put it down because some other book had to play through for a book group. Tam Lin is worth reading and I’m glad I did, but I think its problematic parts outweigh its praiseworthy ones.

What’s Good: This is an engaging girl’s college novel about Janet, the daughter of an English prof and an English major at Blackstock College, based on Minnesota’s Carleton College. My edition has a gorgeous cover, though the upcoming edition does not. The details of college life are well-drawn and frequently amusing. Janet’s insights into many and various works of English and classical literature are interesting, erudite, and might provoke me into expanding my reading list. Shakespeare fans especially will find much to savor. There are refreshingly realistic discussions of teen sexuality in several places that were not graphic. Also, the story of the campus ghost and the odd behavior of Classics majors and professors were intriguing, and kept me reading till the end to find out how the Tam Lin ballad would play out.

What’s Not So Good: This novel, at 468 pages, is about twice as long as it needs to be. Pacing and proportion are serious problems that negatively impacted the almost non-existent plot. Set from the fall of Janet’s first year to Halloween of her fourth, the book spends far too long on freshman year–sophomore year doesn’t start till page 318! The overlong descriptions and analyses of the plays Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, and The Revenger’s Tragedy could have been cut with no deleterious effects. The latter especially, though it featured prominently in the story, was more annoying and unbelievable than not. Janet is the best-drawn character. While the others aren’t so flat to be two-dimensional, many don’t quite achieve a credible complexity. There are also rather too many significant looks and stifled comments since the reveal takes so long to arrive. While the threads of the Tam Lin story are spun from the beginning, they grow so thin from being drawn out that the end of the book is rushed, and most of the relevant, ballad-related action and information takes place in the last fifty pages. This made for a less than satisfying conclusion, and left me with many unanswered questions about this book’s take on the faerie folk and the humans who attend them.

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