'The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories' - Book Review

After watching the BBC mini-series of "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell" recently, I gave some serious thought to re-reading the book. I eventually decided to read something new set in the same world, namely The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories, which is a collection of short stories by Susanna Clarke published two years after Strange and Norrell. The stories considerably expand upon both the ideas of magic in that world and the character of fairies. The book includes an "introduction" purported to be by an expert in Fairy studies that pretends the whole thing is a textbook - a conceit I hardly found flattered the material.

The stories are both goofy and a bit nasty - Grimm-lite, you might say. They also felt a little like she was doing feminist penance for making the previous book all about men: there was an enchantress mentioned in Strange and Norrell, and the female leads are strong and likeable women, but every single person who is or might be a magician is male. So why did you write it that way? Couldn't you have closed with Arabella studying magic? The title story in particular shows three women confounding Jonathan Strange.

Revisionist works like this (Le Guin's later Earthsea tales particularly come to mind) gall me. I understand the motivation: the author feels they did something wrong with a story - or even a series of stories, as with "Earthsea." But I would much rather they retconned the entire thing than twist and distort an existing story, which says "hey, that world you read about, really it's not like that, you got it wrong." It distorts and taints, possibly even destroys, the fan's memory of a work they loved. Just write an intro saying "I'm seeing this differently now - this is a different world." Make a separation.

Setting aside my frustration with the revisionism, this is a light and fun read - although it doesn't carry the weight or presence of Strange and Norrell.