Review

The Ladies of Grace Adieu: And Other Stories

by Susanna Clarke



Good things come not only in small packages but sometimes in unique
ones as well. The first thing a reader of Susanna Clarke's latest
work, THE LADIES OF GRACE ADIEU, will notice is that the publisher
flaunted contemporary convention by offering this hardcover without
the obligatory dust jacket. The cover image is pressed directly
onto the book: viney pink flowers on a dark gray background. The
design immediately sets the book apart. And once the cover is
opened and the spine cracked, the contents will surely continue to
surprise and please readers.


THE LADIES OF GRACE ADIEU is written in the same genre-challenging
prose of Clarke's previous bestselling book, JONATHAN STRANGE &
MR NORRELL. It is not historical drama, though it's mostly set in
18th and 19th century England. It is not quite fantasy, though it's
mostly concerned with magical and mystical creatures. And it's not
a collection of fairy tales, though it's concerned with fairies.
Or, more properly, Sidhe, as we are told in the introduction by
Professor James Sutherland (another character of Clarke's). The
Sidhe, Sutherland explains, "impinge upon our quotidian world" and
Clarke's tales "create a sort of primer to Faerie and
fairies."


All the stories are whimsical yet have a dark and deadly serious
undercurrent; they are about the romance and appeal of magic but
also its danger. Some tales in the collection are, of course, more
successful than others. The title story is one of the best; in it,
readers meet three women in the small village of Grace Adieu in
Gloucestershire.


These ladies are more powerful than they first appear and wise in
traditional magic and the ways of the Raven King. When the famed
and charming magician Jonathan Strange shows up in the village,
they challenge him in unexpected ways. More importantly, they are
able to thwart the evil plans of Captain Winbright, the legal
guardian of young Ursula and Flora, with whom Miss Tobias, one of
the three titular ladies, is charged with raising. This first tale
sets the stage for the rest: a world of spells and magic, enchanted
woods and houses, figures both charming and diabolical. Even Mary,
Queen of Scots makes an appearance.


Clarke's writing is beautiful and engaging, and her stories blend
wit and darkness. However, while all the tales and characters are
interesting, they are not always very original (Clarke's version of
Rumpelstiltskin, for example). Furthermore, they are often just too
short. It would be lovely to be able to lose yourself in these
fantastic and colorful tales, but the book offers eight stories in
fewer than 250 pages. Once you begin to get swept up in the plot
and setting, it is off to the next.


Still, THE LADIES OF GRACE ADIEU is very readable and quite
enchanting overall. Charles Vess's Victorian line drawing
illustrations lend to the specialness of the volume. If nothing
else, this book will keep Clarke's readers happy until her next
full-length novel and create some new fans along the way. Her voice
is unique and hard to define, and it might stray a bit too far off
the beaten path to make this book recommendable to all readers. But
those seeking literary adventure and huge imagination, coupled with
a precise and unforgettable writing style, will find much to enjoy
here.



   













Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on December 30, 2010

The Ladies of Grace Adieu: And Other Stories
by Susanna Clarke

  • Publication Date: October 17, 2006
  • Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Short Stories
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • ISBN-10: 1596912510
  • ISBN-13: 9781596912519