The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke

CTRandall

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The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories is a collection of short stories, most of which are set in the same world as Susanna Clarke’s novel, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. If you’re not familiar with the novel (or the BBC TV adaptation), it takes place in late 18th-, early 19th-century England and features a mix of magic, faeries and historical figures, including the Duke of Wellington.

This collection of stories is, in short, frustrating. Clarke’s wit, humour and imagination are evident throughout the book. Despite this, most of the stories fail to deliver on their promise. This is due, in part, to Clarke’s decision to write a couple of stories in the style of fairy tales, i.e. with simple, straightforward characterizations that lack much depth. I’m sympathetic to what she tried to do but the results are inconsistent. “Mrs. Mabb” and “The Duke of Wellington Misplaces his Horse” both fell flat for me. “On Lickerish Hill” suffered likewise, with the added problem that it is an almost exact retelling of “Rumpelstiltskin”. To be honest, that annoyed me so much, I almost stopped reading then and there.

There are, however, a couple of gems towards the end of the book. “Tom Brightwind or How the Fairy Bridge Was Built at Thoresby” and “John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner” are both fun little stories that play on fairy tale tropes without falling into clichés. “Mr. Simonelli or the Fairy Widower” also works well, though I found the ending a bit muddled.

Beyond that, the book is in sore need of an edit. I read the Kindle version, which had numerous errors throughout. This was compounded by Clarke’s inconsistent use of 18th- and 19th-century English spellings. Most of the book is written with modern spellings but, in some stories, Clarke uses older spellings maybe once or twice on a page. The result is that they look like errors, which jarred whenever I came across them. As I said at the start, frustrating.

Overall, I have a hard time recommending this to anyone. Unfortunately, the errors and problems outweigh the imagination and wit. If you’re not familiar with Clarke’s work, try Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. If you’re already a fan, I reluctantly advise avoiding The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories.
 

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The Judge

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#3
Thanks for the review. I loved Jonathan Strange, so if I'd come across this collection of stories, I'd have leapt at it. I still might give it a go if I can pick it up cheap, but at least I'll be forewarned!
 

Randy M.

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#4
Ummm ...

I'm pretty sure I'm the opposing view, here. Not because CT is nischaracterizing anything by my reading, but because what irked him didn't bother me. At another site I wrote:

Just finished The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories by Susanna Clarke.

I started this a couple of years ago after finishing her novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell but two stories in and it began to feel like too much of a good thing. Once I finished The Hobbit, though, wanting something with a similar tone, this was perfect. These are charming, amusing stories and demonstrate that the world Clarke has created is diverse enough to generate many more stories. I hope we see more from her in the near future.


As I recall, I especially enjoyed the title story, which gave a somewhat altered view of magic from that in the novel. The ladies are quite adept and a character from the novel a bit clueless about it all. I also agree that the Tom Brightwind and John Uskglass stories are particularly good.


Randy M.
 

CTRandall

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@Randy M. and @Phyrebrat I actually enjoy her writing style as well, and I like her wit, charm, humour and imagination (including the magic in the title story). For me, she just didn't succeed in the fairy tale style of writing (we'll have to agree to disagree on that, I suspect). And I felt cheated by the retelling of Rumplelstiltskin. It was so close to the original story, it felt like she was just 'mailing it in'. I really wanted to like the book, hence I came away feeling frustrated. Still, if she puts out another book, I'm sure I'll read it.
 

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