The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke (2006) 235 p.
Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell was one of the most roundly acclaimed fantasy novels written in the past few decades, winning the Hugo Award and shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and deservedly so. It’s particularly amazing given that it was Clarke’s debut, and twelve years later it remains her only novel. I’ve often thought it must be intimidating to try something once and have it meet with overwhelming success, which is perhaps why her second book, The Ladies of Grace Adieu, is a collection of short stories which run more or less along the same lines as Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.
It’s solid and enjoyable in the same way that the great novel is, although, as with any collection of short stories, they’re never quite as good as a novel. This is further emphasised because half the fun of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell was the sheer vastness of it, the voluminous prose, the epic sense; the style doesn’t work quite so well in the format of a short story. It’s telling that my two favourite stories in this collection (“Mr Simonelli or the Fairy Widower” and “Tom Brightwind or How the Bridge was Built at Thoresby”) are also the longest.
But in any case, I enjoyed the book and can easily recommend it to anybody who liked Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. On the other hand, though, I can also see how somebody apprehensive about Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell’s size might try this as a sample for Clarke’s writing style and her magical, alternate history England. That would be a mistake – it’s just not quite the same.