THE LADIES OF GRACE ADIEU – stories by Susanna Clarke (2006)

the-ladies-of-grace-adieuSusanna Clarke’s much lauded magnum opus Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is one of my favorite speculative books. So I didn’t hesitate to order The Ladies Of Grace Adieu And Other Stories after reading an excellent review on the Calmgrove blog.

It features 8 stories, plus a fictional introduction by “Professor James Sutherland, Director of Sidhe Studies, University of Aberdeen”. That introduction is only 3 pages and set my expectations even higher, as Clarke’s familiar ‘English’ narrative voice shone through instantly, promising more of the treat Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell was. All the stories in this 235-page collection deal with Faerie in one way or the other, and were illustrated by WFA winning artist Charles Vess. A few are also explicitly linked with J.S. & Mr. N.

The stories are about 10 to 50 pages long, and nearly all predate Clarke’s big tome by a few years. All but one were published before. Here’s a list of the titles: The Ladies Of Grace Adieu (1996), On Lickerish Hill (1997), Mrs Mabb (1998), The Duke Of Wellington Misplaces His Horse (1999), Mr Simonelli Or The Fairy Widower (2000), Tom Brightwind Or How The Fairy Bridge Was Built At Thoresby (2001), Antickes And Frets (2004) and John Uskglass And The Cumbian Charcoal Burner (new).

Let’s cut to the chase: I thought the first three weren’t that good. It feels a bit like Clarke was still searching for her narrative voice, and these early stories lack the feeling of brooding mystery that permeates so much of her novel. They also lack the hard to describe oddball, smooth wit that makes much of her later work an eerie comedy of manners.

The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse is short, sweet and a bit bonkers, a good read, simple as that. It features Wellington losing his horse, indeed. Mr Simonelli Or The Fairy Widower shows what the problem of the earlier stories was: with its 50 pages, this story finally has enough room to allow for Clarke’s slow-burning atmosphere to bloom. The same goes for Tom Brightwind…‘s forty pages. If you are a fan of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, these are the stories that merit the purchase of this volume. The two final stories are short & sweet again, simple as that.

So, what’s my advice? Read the novel first, if you haven’t – it’s inventive, and I know nothing like it. I’m quite sure you’ll get a lot more out of these stories if you have. For those uninitiated in Clarke’s brand of faerie logic & mythology, my guess is that this collection is maybe a bit too peculiar to get into. But if you have read & loved the novel, and if you have a few coins to spare, there’s stupider things to throw money at…


6 responses to “THE LADIES OF GRACE ADIEU – stories by Susanna Clarke (2006)

  1. Thanks for the mention and praise! I borrowed a copy from the library for my review but am still tempted to get my own. I suspect that this and JS&MN will be for me like Tolkien’s LOTR, something to dig out every 10 or so years to enjoy all over again!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sadly, libraries don’t have much English genre fiction here in Belgium, which forces me to buy everything I want to read. I sell a lot of what I read back on the second hand market, but that’s only for maybe 10% of the original cost…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve ‘liked’ your comment but it’s sad that you lose out with your book acquisition habits. At least I have choices: as well as bookshops I have the library, charity shops, secondhand bookshops and friends as sources, which means that the upfront costs of reading are a lot lower and that I don’t mind giving away what I no longer want or need.

    If only we lived closer we could swap books, but of course failing a teleportation device that’d be impractical as things now stand!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Luckily there’s a good secondhand shop that carries quite a lot of English genre fiction in town. I buy secondhand online too, but the postage can be steep, so that’s mainly for OOP titles. I used to borrow from friends, but I tend to read a lot more SFF than they do, so usually it’s the other way around. Maybe I should switch to e-books, that would be cheaper for OOP titles.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: PIRANESI – Susanna Clarke (2020) | Weighing a pig doesn't fatten it.

  4. Pingback: Weighing a pig doesn't fatten it.

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