The Ladies of Grace Adieu

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007
by Susanna Clarke
I should start off by saying I've never read Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell. I was interested when it came out, but I didn't get to it right away and honestly it just got away from me. So when I saw this collection of stories I thought, "hooray!" (with the exclamation point) and welcomed the opportunity to read some of Susanna Clarke's writing without committing to a door-stopper's worth.

But first, the cover. I know it's not essential and may even be silly to go on and on about covers and paper and whatnot, but dammit, it's part of the reading experience! I love how this book looks. It's another cloth cover (like Icelander ), but instead of a wolf, fire and snow (that would have been awkward, I suppose) this one has pink morning glories and a delightfully worn typeface for the title. The pages have nice ragged edges, and the book is illustrated by the marvelous Charles Vess. (The paper isn't nearly as nice as the paper in Icelander, but that would be hard to beat, honestly.)

This collection deals in magic, fairies and their intersection with the mundane world. It's a sort-of cross between polite Austen-era society and the tricky amoral world of fairies. (not amoral in LKH detail, thankfully.) Like all collections of stories, some really worked for me and to some I was fairly indifferent. She switches up her styles here and there -- the title story is set in the JS & MN world (Jonathan Strange plays a part), there are a few that seem very Jane Austen but for Fairies, there is one (On Likerish Hill) written in Suffolk dialect that I thought I wasn't going like, but ended up ranking it among my favorites, one set in the town of Wall from Stardust by Neil Gaiman. Ooh -- there were at least two stories with enchanted embroidery as well. How many story collections can you say that about? Not many!

One of my favorite stories is Tom Brightwind. Tom is a very old (but young-looking, because that's the fairy way), very tall, very imperious fairy prince. But he's made friends with a human doctor named David Montefiore and they apparently had many wide-ranging and well-documented adventures (I hope she writes more of these alluded to adventures down). They're a fun pair -- one is a devoted family man with a strong ethical streak (the doctor) and one has so many children he can't keep track (he's banished many of them for capricious reasons) and an essentially selfish nature (the fairy). Lots of fun. The particular adventure recounted in this story finds them meeting a lawyer in the road. Here's a bit that explains why I sort of have a crush on Tom Brightwind now:

"David!" cried Tom. "When did you ever see a lawyer that looked like that? Look at him! His rascally shoes are broken all to bits. There are great holes in his vagabond's coat and he has no wig! Of course he is a scoundrel!" He leant down from his tall horse. "We are leaving now, scoundrel. Goodbye!"

Rascally shoes??? (love.) Anyway, I enjoyed this collection but I think I'll wait a bit before I throw JS & MN on the already precariously tall reading pile.
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