Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Ladies of Grace Adieu

by Susanna Clarke

Grade: 4 stars

Thoughts: Firstly, a command: read Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. It's brilliant.
Now I can continue.

Susanna Clarke is by far the most effective author I know at writing in a late 18th/early 19th century style. She really is Jane Austen or Charles Dickens, plus magic. This is the sort of thing that ends up being claimed in many book blurbs, but generally there is more than one factor which gives away the 21st century style. But Clarke is different: not only is her spelling and method of speech pitch perfect, but even the way ideas are presented is authentic to that style. One of the big issues with historical fiction (I find) is an anachronistic style of thought. So even if the authors manage to get the method of speech right (which they often don't), they so frequently incorporate ideas which were simply not thought of (or at least not discussed to that extent) in the era being written about. Often this is our current brand of 20th century feminism.
But let's get to the book itself.

"The Ladies of Grace Adieu"--The only one of these stories to contain characters from JS&MN. It was great to see Strange again, though I wish I remembered this part of the book this story is referring too.

"On Lickerish Hill"--A retelling of sorts of Rumpelstiltskin. I have not too much to say about this one. The dialect it was written in was interesting, though distracting.

"Mrs. Mabb"--This one has a few scenes which show off Clarke's clever and creepy way of writing insanity. Except in this case (as opposed the madness of Strange in JS&MN), the protagonist is not actually mad at all, but interacting with fairies. However, Venetia is to all appearances insane, so the descriptions of her forgetfulness and butterfly killings and endless dancing are still wonderfully eerie.

"The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse"--There is a note at the beginning of this one stating that it takes place in the world Neil Gaiman created for Stardust. Which means that it's basically glorified fan-fiction. Personally, I love fan-fiction (although ONLY when it's really well done) and I'd love it if more published authors wrote stories like this.

"Mr. Simonelli or The Fairy Widower"--I think this was my favourite. Simonelli was an interesting character, and I'd really like to know what happened to him after the events of this story. The introduction mentions his "extraordinary career", so I can hope that he went on to do many strange and adventurous things.

"Tom Brightwind or How the Fairy Bridge Was Built at Thoresby"--This was fascinating for the fact that this is the first time I can think of where a fairy is one of the "good guys". How did such a friendship between a fairy and a mortal possibly come about? Mostly how could Dr. Montefiore stand to be around Tom so much? This, like several of the other stories in this book, feels like there are fascinating back-stories and future events surrounding it. Susanna Clarke really needs to write more.

"Antickes and Frets"--A fairly short story about Mary Queen of Scots and her jealousy of Elizabeth. Slightly creepy and slightly sad, as much of Clarke's writing tends to be.

"John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner"--Amusing, and the illustration is gorgeous.

In general, this was worth buying, and is a good companion to JS&MR. It was interesting to see more female characters (as JS&MR was somewhat lacking in them), and the illustrations were beautiful. I can't wait till Clarke writes more--although considering it took her ten years to write JS&MR, I shouldn't get my hopes up.


Christina said...

Bring JS & MR up at some point and I will read it. Because I want to read it first, before this one, and this sounds like a lovely book.

RED said...

Most definitely. You might really like it, despite your dislike of Dickens, considering the fact that you've read "Mill on the Floss" five times. Or was that "Emma"? Or both? Anyhoo, you've read enough classics. And this one is classics PLUS MAGIC! Should I bring it up right away, or wait until you tell me you're ready?

Petra said...

I had no idea Clarke had written anything besides JS&MN. I've never read that book, but this short story collection sounds really intriguing and I might be tempted to read JS&MN just so I can read it. Thanks so much for the review!

RED said...

Petra: Actually, most of these stories don't require having read JS&MR. Only the first one has characters from that book. And even the first one doesn't feature Jonathan Strange very much. So you could read it without having read JS&MR.

But still, you should read JS&MR anyway! Personally, I think it's fabulous. I found the first bit quite hard to get through, but it gets easier later on. And if you like classic novels such as those written by Dickens and Austen, you will probably like the first part as well.

Petra said...

That's good to know! I was worried I might have to be familiar with the world or that the short story might reveal points from JS&MN. This might be a really good way to judge whether I like Clarke's writing style, though, before I commit to JS&MN. I love Dickens and Austen, so it seems this should definitely go on my list of books to read!