Susanna Clarke is one of those others where readers have to ask what in the hell is she doing that she can’t publish another wonderful book like her masterpiece Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell? She’s in the same line of George R.R. Martin (for pretty much the whole world) and Jamie O’Neill for me. Each of these authors have written works that have profound affects on individuals/societies and then sort of wander off and do other things or seem to disappear completely in O’Neill’s case.
I’m not 100% sure how I forgot this short story collection existed, but I did. I should have read it immediately after reading Strange & Norrell, but I think the book hangover was such that I needed a break from Clarke’s world. Something triggered my in the past month or so and three years later I jumped back into her fantastic creation. Making my way through the stories I really wish I would’ve read them closer to the base work, but I didn’t.
The book contains the following short stories:
- The Ladies of Grace Adieu
- On Lickerish Hill
- Mrs. Mabb
- The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse
- Mr. Simonelli, or, The Fairy Widower
- Tom Brightwind, or, How the Fairy Bridge was Built at Thoresby
- Antickes and Frets
- John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner
All of the stories had aspects that were wonderful and most threw back to Strange & Norrell, but the stories that stood out most to me were “The Ladies of Grace Adieu,” “Tom Brightwind,” and “John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner.” These were not only three of the longest stories in the collection, but they had the best character development. The third of these stood out the most for me because it not only talks about a key character/legend in the original work, but it shows that everyone is fallible and that the most poor/uneducated of people have some access to retribution if they’re creative and persistent.
I enjoyed learning more about female magicians and felt Clarke could’ve written an entirely new novel based solely on the network of female magicians that exists throughout England. She could easily fill another 900 pages I’m sure and I bet it would be even more interesting than Strange & Norrell!
Recommendation: It takes a lot of work and a lot of talent to create a short story. Being able to encapsulate an entire experience in such a tight format is not easy, but Clarke excels at it. If anything reading these stories made me want to re-read Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, but maybe I’ll just re-watch the BBC series instead because 900+ pages is a massive commitment 😀