In Calabria tells the tale of the grumpy Bianchi, who has lost things throughout his life and barricaded himself in his farm to ensure he doesn’t lose any more. He talks to his animals for company and finds solace in the weekly visits from his postman. However, when a pregnant unicorn decides to use his farm as a safe refuge, Bianchi is forced to let people into his cultivated loneliness, some of who threaten more than just his farm.
Beagle cultivates this idea of Bianchi and his farm bridging two worlds. Physically, Bianchi’s farm exists “too far uphill for the American suntanners, and too low for the German skiers.” The unicorn ensures the story too is taking place within both our reality and the mythic, where paparazzi and gangsters clash with folklore. It gives the tale a timeless quality and an absorbing sense of place.
Bianchi is a figure of two minds, desiring solitude while secretly longing for company. As his relationship with the unicorn develops, he begins to rediscover himself, and the reader follows this man returning to a life he had once rejected. It also helps that Beagle imbues the animals around him with a real sense of personality, including a nosy goat.
Aiding this is Beagle’s gentle prose, describing enough to set the scene and stoke the imagination. The simplicity of the language belies the depth of the tale too; Beagle threads through explorations of the need for community, forgiveness and the importance of embracing the unknown rather than automatically fearing it.
A lyrical modern fairy tale, In Calabria is a lovely tale of finding magic in our world and the importance of protecting it while we have it. It’s the hopeful kind of story we all need right now.