The Ladies of Grace Adieu, by Susanna Clarke

Fans of Susanna Clarke’s 2004 novel Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell will be thrilled to learn that Bloomsbury has just released a gorgeous collection of Ms. Clarke’s short stories, all of which are set in the same world as Strange and Norrell, although few feature the same characters.

The book, entitled The Ladies of Grace Adieu, features eight short stories, ranging in length from about fifty pages to less than ten. I was doubtful that Clarke’s wonderful imitation of nineteenth-century style would suit such a reduced format (seeing as how her first book was approximately six billion pages long), but I needn’t have worried: Clarke is as remarkable as ever, and her gift for creating extraordinarily creepy fantasy is just as evident. In fact, my favorite story in the collection, "The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse", is a mere six pages long, yet it’s as elegantly weird as anything in Strange and Norrell.

Unfortunately, the quality of the collection was uneven. The title story was beautifully written but emotionally underwhelming, and an adaptation of Rumplestilskin, entitled “On Lickerish Hill” and written in faux-seventeenth-century language, was downright obnoxious. It felt less like a story than it did a writing exercise for an upper-level college course (admittedly, one destined to knock some professor’s socks off). The rest, however, are wonderful, and fans of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell are sure to enjoy them.

Clarke’s first novel was a dazzling literary accomplishment, but it was never more admirable than it was entertaining. (Unlike, say, most of A.S. Byatt’s work.) The Ladies of Grace Adieu is equally well written, but it lacks some the lavish charm of Clarke’s first novel, and it frequently feels more clever than genuinely engaging. If Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell was the work of a true magician, then The Ladies of Grace Adieu is the work of a great illusionist: brilliantly executed and delightful to behold, but something less than the real thing.
Posted by: Julia, Last edit by: Julianka


The Angry Carrot
The Angry Carrot
18 Oct, 2006 01:46 AM @ version 0

I am so, SO excited about this book. I loved the short story that you linked to via the author page, and that cover art looks lovely. If it's half as good as 'Strange and Norrell', it would still be worth the cover price!!!

18 Oct, 2006 06:07 AM @ version 0

Not that I'm not totally going to buy this, but readers should know that you can find some of these stories elsewhere. If you can't afford the $24 for this edition, hunt around on ebay for some of the stories in their earlier printings.

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