Tuesday 4 January 2011

The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories by Susanna Clarke

Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is one of my favourite books of all time, so as soon as I discovered that she had also written this collection of short stories set in the same world, I had to read it.  Better four years late than never!

The stories in The Ladies of Grace Adieu are all set in a green, forested England where the boundary between magic and reality is very blurred.  Before writing Jonathan Strange Clarke spent a lot of time researching English legends and folklore, and this has paid off as the stories read like authentic Grimm-style fairy tales.  Most of the stories centre on the world of Faerie and it's inhabitants, the kind of world where you might wander down a never-ending path, kill someone with embroidery or fall victim to a trickster Faerie prince.  There are eight stories in the collection.

Score: 4.5 out of 5

I had high hopes for this collection and it didn't disappoint.  I just love the world that Clarke has created and the sinister characters in it.  In some ways, the Faeries and the setting reminded me of all the Enid Blyton books I used to read as a child with fairies, goblins and dwarves (and I mean that in a good way).  Like Jonathan Strange, Clarke has made this book quasi-academic with an introduction by a "professor of faerie studies" and footnotes in some of the stories.  She also continues to copy the 19th century writing style.  Personally I enjoy these techniques, but I know they aren't for everyone.

The stories were varied in length and some were more engaging than others.  I particularly enjoyed Mr Simonelli, about a man who discovers his father was a fairy and does battle with a fairy prince.  Antickes and Frets was about Mary Queen of Scots attempting to kill Queen Elizabeth by embroidering a curse into a gift for her.  In The Ladies of Grace Adieu, a Jane Austen meets Brothers Grimm kind of tale, Jonathan Strange discovers that women have ancient magic too and The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse is set in the village of Wall, from Neil Gaiman's Stardust. There wasn't a single story in the collection I didn't enjoy, although I thought Tom Brightwind  was a touch too long.

The theme of most of the stories was humans coming up against and battling wits with fairies and other forms of magic.  The secondary themes that I could see where the role of women in society and friendship between humans and fairies.  The main problem with the collection was that the stories didn't seem particularly organised and there was no over-arching plot or links between them.  Susanna Clarke had put together seven of these stories from previous publications and added the eighth for this collection, and it did have a slightly cobbled together feel.

But that's a minor complaint.  The writing was beautiful, the book itself was beautiful and I very much enjoyed reading it.  Definitely recommended for Jonathan Strange fans, it would also serve as a good introduction to Clarke's world for those put off by how long Jonathan Strange is.


  1. I got Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell for my boyfriend some months ago because he's always enjoyed fantasy reads. However, I realized that it'll probably be more likely that I read it before him. I've been in a rut, at you know, and have this sitting in the TBR. Perhaps I'll pick it up soon. Your description of Jane Austen meets Brother Grimm is encouraging. This second collection sounds interesting, also. I'll be sure to share as soon as I've tackled it.

  2. This is another book I have heard about, but have yet to read...I really need to get on that.

  3. @Beth - I do hope you get out of your rut soon, it's a horrible feeling. JS & MN is a great book if you have the time to devote to it - I read it during a holiday from work and loved it.

    @Kate - Read Jonathan Strange first, you'll love it :)

  4. This sounds fantastic! I've not come across this one, and I also haven't read Jonathan Strange yet - I know, I know, I'm behind...

  5. i loved jonathan strange but had forgotten all about this collection. i love some of the things you mention, like the quasi-academic feel. i get into these sorts of stories that blur the distinctions between reality and imagination, and clarke's stories sound perfect for that. if you like this you might also like kelly link's stories; her writing style is very different from clarke's, but they have in common that they play with older stories and themes, some of which come from fairy tales or just feel like fairy tales.

    -- ellen

  6. A thoroughly delightful collection of short stories that truly complement the magical world she created with JS&MN. I understand that she is working on a sequel, if you will, to JS&MN. I can't wait! I really love her writing. Great review! Cheers! Chris

  7. This book does sound awesome cool! Love the review!