Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke

"Magic, madam, is
like wine and,
if you are not used
to it, it will make
you drunk."

Those of you who have read my blog in the past may have realised that I have fallen head over heels in love with Susanna Clarke's writing. I did not cope well with Dickens at school and to this day have never finished any of his novels. Then I discover Ms Clarke, who writes like a modern day Dickens, and her fabulous book, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. A mysterious journey through the Napoleonic era, following the rivalry of two magicians, and their effect on the fate of English magic. Now one of my favourite novels, and reviewed here, it left me wanting more.

The Ladies of Grace Adieu is a collection of short stories set in the same world as magic and faery as Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. There are eight stories, each written in the same delectable style, and each delving into a different faery story.

The Ladies of Grace Adieu is perhaps the story most reminiscent of Clarke's first novel, introducing us to a trio of female magicians and their struggle to get accepted by their male counterparts. Jonathan Strange himself makes an appearance in this glorious tale of magic, superstition and vengeful owls.

On Lickerish Hill is the tale of a sly woman who sells her daughter to a nobleman, under the proviso that in the last month of the first year of their marriage, she must spin five skeins of flax every day. The young woman, as cunning as her mother, devises a way to fulfill her husbands demands, by making a deal with a fairy. All she has to do, is discover his name, or her life will be his.

Mrs Mabb is the sad tale of a young woman who loses her love to the mysterious Mrs Mabb. Only her determination can rescue her love.

The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse is an amusing story, set in Gaiman's fictional village of Wall. There in The Seventh Magpie Inn, the Duke of Wellington quarrels with a local villager over a pair of embroidery scissors and is later forced to cross the Wall to retrieve his stallion, released in spite by the angry man. There he discovers a small house where a young woman is embroidering some beautiful images of the Duke's past and possible future. When faced with his own death in gloriously coloured thread, the Duke must take matters into his own hand.

Mr Simonelli or The Fairy Widower, is a series of extracts from the diary of a young Italian man, who takes a position as cleric in a small town, where he has hopes over marrying well and creating a good home for himself. There he encounters a Fairy Widower, only to learn and discover more about his heritage and future destiny.

Tom Brightwind or How the Fairy Bridge Was Built at Thoresby is the tale of a young Jewish doctor and his fairy friend, travelling to visit a sick patient, when they come upon the poor begotten village of Thoresby. Tom is persuaded to build a fairy bridge across the river with unforeseen results.

Antickes and Frets is the tale of Mary, Queen of Scots, thrown into prison by her cousin, Elizabeth, and who ends up in the care of the Earl of Shrewsbury and his ambitious wife. She soon begins to suspect that the Countess had gotten where she was through dark means in her embroidery. Mary endeavours to use the same means to get rid of her cousin and thus usurp the throne of England.

The final story, John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner, is an amusing tale of a Charcoal Burner (and his pig Blakeman!), whose life is rudely interrupted by the Raven King himself, and who enlists Saints to have his revenge on Uskglass.

Clarke's style is perfect for me. She manages to write about a world so unusual and unfamiliar to us, yet makes it so evocative and believeable that I for one, got completely sucked in. Her writing is a sheer delight to read, and I found myself having to take breaks after each short story, just as I would with a great novel, in order to really digest and enjoy the experience. My fear was that the next story would never be as good, but each was as good as the last.

A fabulous collection by a wonderful author. I cannot recommend these stories enough, and dearly hope that Susanna Clarke writes more very soon.


Melanie said...

I have a copy of this and now I really MUST read it! I love Susanna Clarke as well.

Tania Hershman said...

We've just published a review of this book in the latest issue of The Short Review and my reviewer loved it too! Must get myself a copy. Ahh, more books to buy.

Carl V. said...

This is a beautiful book. I've read it two or three times now and each time I fall for the stories all over again. Coupled with Charles Vess' wonderful artwork, this is truly a must own book.