Whenever I think “hype victim” Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norris always comes to mind. Remember when the book took the world by storm? When Gaiman was saying it was the best thing since bread came sliced? 10-years in the making yady bla. It’s hard to live up to all those expectations, but the book put up a good fight. Despite it all I liked it and at the time gave it a 4/5. It’s obvious Clarke’s a talented writer, but the real thing could never be as good as the book in my head. I ended up admiring it for its execution, but it didn’t steal my heart.

Or maybe I just got a bit hurt by the way she described Portugal and its natives.

In any case, for me the jury is still out on Susanna Clarke until her next novel, so while waiting I’ve read The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories, a collection of eight short stories, all but one set in the same world as JS & MN. I was still delighted by her version of a past England where real magic is part of everyday life and influences history. She once again put footnotes to good use and got off to a good start with an introduction by fictional Professor James Sutherland, the present-day Director of Sidhe studies at the University of Aberdeen and editor of the collection:

The sad truth is that nowadays – as at all periods of our history – misinformation about Faerie assails us from every side. It is through stories such as these that the serious student of Sidhe culture may make a window for herself into Faerie and snatch a glimpse of its complexity, its contradictions and its fascinations.

One of the reasons I’m still looking for a satisfying Austen prequel, sequel or spin-off is that the ones I’ve read so far don’t sound authentic. But this book confirms a suspicion I’ve had since JS & MN: Susanna Clarke’s 19th century English is close to perfection. As a Janeite I especially appreciated the homage-story Mr. Simonelli or The Fairy Widower. If you’ve read Pride & Prejudice (or watched the 1995 adaptation) you can’t miss the similarities with Mr. Darcy’s letter. Clarke’s version begins like this:

Madam,

I shall not try your patience by a repetition of those arguments with which I earlier tried to convince you of my innocence. When I left you this afternoon I told you that it was in my power to place in your hands written evidence that would absolve me from every charge which you have seen fit to heap upon my head and in fulfillment of that promise I enclose my journal.

My favorite story was set in the same world as Gaiman’s Stardust and it’s called The Duke of Wellington Misplaces his Horse. The Duke of Wellington chases his horse beyond the Wall and has to use all his wits to be able to return. It involves the Duke’s attempts at embroidery – so funny.

The reason why I bought the book in the first place was the wonderful edition and its illustrations by Charles Vess. It was just the thing to add to my collection of Penguin’s hardcover classics.

If you’re a fan of JS & MN, you’ll like The Ladies of Grace Adieu, if you felt intimidated by JS & MN’s size and extensive historical notes, this might be a good introduction. Actually, everyone who welcomes a good world-building should recognize Clarke as one of the best.

***

Other thoughts: ProSe, The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader (and yours?)

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