Tuesday, May 13, 2008

20. The Ladies of Grace Adieu

The title: The Ladies of Grace Adieu
The author: Susanna Clarke
Publication: Bloomsbury, 2006
Got it from: Amazon

Can I just gush for a minute about the cover? I love love love it. As someone, somewhere on the internet said, "the outside is just like the inside!" Call me creepy, but when this book came in the mail I couldn't stop caressing it, it was so soft. Ah, I am such a book fetishist.

This book is a companion to Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, which I read last year and adored. The thing I love most about Susanna Clarke as an author is that she really makes it worthwhile for smart readers who are paying attention. In other words, she doesn't club you over the head with the obvious, which surprising few authors know how to do nowadays. As someone who is well-versed in both Regency and fairy literature, I found both Jonathan Strange and this book to be howlingly funny, while most readers I imagine would be painfully bored.

The best analogy I could think of to describe Clarke's books is this: imagine a lake that everyone goes to visit, because it's a well-talked about lake. Most people would go, say, "oh what a pretty lake, but I don't see what the fuss is about, it's kind of boring and nothing's really happening," and move on. But some people would take the time to stand on the shore and look into the lake. And if they were paying attention, they would start to see all kinds of delightful creatures, like giant orange fish and swimming turtles and wavy seaweed and maybe a monster or two.

This book is a collection of short stories, which is definitely a departure for me. I almost never read short stories, because I hate getting to know a set of characters, only to have to leave them a short while later and start all over again. (An exception to this is Budge Wilson's short stories). On the other hand, if I don't like the story, at least I know I can leave it in a few short pages.

What else can I say about this book? It's closely tied to Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, so I wouldn't recommend reading it unless you've read that book first. Think of it as Silmarillion to Lord of the Rings, only less tedious. Any flaws I might point out about this book are somehow argued down in my mind with, "but it's about fairiessss! And the Regency! That's like complaining about chocolate mousse when all you've had lately is turnips. Maybe it's a little runny, but it's chocolate mousse for goodness' sake!" B+

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