Saturday, March 24, 2012

8. The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories

By Susanna Clarke

Found this almost pristine trade paperback at Dark Carnival’s sidewalk bargain bin when I was visiting Berkeley one Christmas holiday, having already read the wonderful Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell earlier that year and aware that the short stories of Grace Adieu were set in the same universe as the novel.  Although the collection was published after Jonathan Strange, most of the stories were written much earlier, with the feature story, "The Ladies of Grace Adieu", being Clarke’s first published story.

This was also the same short story that impressed her creative writing teacher (now significant other), who secretly passed on the story to Neil Gaiman, who then showed it to another writer-editor, who then published it in an award-winning anthology. As I mentioned in my review for JS & MN, Clarke began her career as a relative unknown, writing in her spare time since her full-time job was editing cookbooks at a publishing company. So the talent that was evident in "The Ladies of Grace Adieu" really got events rolling which would lead to the long-anticipated publication of her debut novel. The Wikipedia has a great entry about Clarke as a struggling writer, which is a great story in itself -- full of adversity, romance and a happy ending. It also chronicles her creative process, as well as provides a helpful summary of the stories in the Grace Adieu collection.

I must admit that "The Ladies of Grace Adieu" was the best and most memorable of all the stories. As much as I loved Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, the short stories as a whole were like pale shadows in comparison, as they only give you a taste of the fully realized brilliance of the novel.  Light, enjoyable and whimsical, the stories were not particularly memorable. 

Like delightful, bite-sized pieces of candy, Clarke’s short stories provided a perfect distraction if I had finished a novel and was momentarily at a loss as to what to read next. The stories are probably best appreciated as a companion to Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. If you haven’t read the novel yet, the stories may pique your interest, and if you’ve finished the novel, and like me, was very sad to leave the wonderful universe Clarke had created, then the stories will help prolong your immersion or provide another opportunity to be in that world again, albeit peripherally.

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