Susanna Clarke’s The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories is a collection mostly or entirely [*] set in the same world as her brilliant novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. If you liked the novel, you should certainly read this collection. If you haven’t read the novel and are intimidated by its length, I think that using the collection as a sampler is an excellent idea. The prose style and the topics are the same, and even Jonathan Strange appears in the title story. I won’t promise that you’ll like the novel if you like this collection, because the novel is a lot more ambitious; but I think the odds are very good.
[*] I say “mostly or entirely” because the fictional introduction treats them all as illuminating that same world, but one of the stories is explicitly set in the world of Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess’s Stardust, which may or may not fully overlap JS&MN‘s world; and back when I read JS&NM, I thought the story “Tom Brightwind, or How the Fairy Bridge was Built at Thoresby” wasn’t consistent with it. (I couldn’t defend that conclusion now without a re-read.)
A few notes on individual stories:
- Not even for Susanna Clarke can I read a story told in dialect, which rules out “On Lickerish Hill.”
- “Mr Simonelli or The Fairy Widower” is the longest of the new-to-me stories. It has an enjoyably-unreliable narrator and a fairy household that isn’t as creepy as that of the gentleman with the thistle-down hair, but has somewhat of its flavor.
- “John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner” is just lovely, a folk-tale like those that appear in JS&MN‘s footnotes.
The Charcoal Burner went down to Furness Abbey again. “That wicked man came back and ate my toasted cheese!” he told the Almoner.
The Almoner shook his head sadly at the sinfulness of the world. “Have some more cheese,” he offered. “And perhaps some bread to go with it?”
“Which saint is it that looks after cheeses?” demanded the Charcoal Burner.
The Almoner thought for a moment. “That would be Saint Bridget,” he said.
“And where will I find her ladyship?” asked the Charcoal Burner, eagerly.
“She has a church at Beckermet,” replied the Almoner, and he pointed the way the Charcoal Burner ought to take.
So the Charcoal Burner walked to Beckermet and when he got to the church he banged the altar plates together and roared and made a great deal of noise until Saint Bridget looked anxiously out of Heaven and asked if there was any thing she could do for him.
Also, the physical book is a pleasure, with Charles Vess illustrations and a decorated cloth cover with no dust jacket.