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Eight Trips Back to Faerie,
This review is from: The Ladies of Grace Adieu: and Other Stories (Paperback)
In this first collection of short stories, Susanna Clarke returns to the world she created in her first novel, the excellent "Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell", with more stories about the world of Faerie and England. Jonathan Strange visits his wife's brother in the town of Grace Adieu and discovers there three women who secretly practice magic and deal with any menaces that come to their town with strict severity. A re-telling of the folk tale "Tom Tit Tot" is the basis for "On Lickerish Hill" where Clarke employs rural dialect in the telling of a young woman who, in return for a favour from a faerie, must guess his name within one month or else she will become his.
My favourite was probably "Mr Simonelli, or The Faerie Widower" which is about a priest called Mr Simonelli who goes to the town of Allhope to be the new rector there and finds that the town is ruled by a mysterious fellow who lives outside the town in a ramshackle house, whose name is John Hollyshoes. The setting and the air of desolation within an isolated countryside town brought to mind the work of the Bronte sisters, especially Emily, and adds to the atmosphere of blasted heaths and doomed country folk. Who will help them? Mr Simonelli to the rescue! I thought this story was most effective as even though it's set within Clarke's world of faeries and magic and England in the regency period, it stands apart from her novel and could be read by somone unfamiliar with her work and still enjoy it.
"Tom Brightwind, or How the Fairy Bridge was Built at Thoresbury" is another cracking read as is "Mrs Mabb" both of which feel like they had been cut from Clarke's novel and resurrected here but are still pleasures to read nonetheless. The shorter stories, "The Duke of Wellington Misplaces his Horse" and "Antickes and Frets", are both about embroidery and are the less energised of the tales but fit in well between the longer tales as breathers. Both stories are about real people as well, the Duke of Wellington and Mary, Queen of Scots.
There are eight stories in this collection (more! more!) and the first seven have been published before, though I'm glad they were reprinted in this volume as I had no idea that she had had published short stories. The eighth is an unpublished story called "John Uskglass and the Charcoal Burner" which is about a charcoal burner and his pig Blakemore who thwart John Uskglass, The King of the North, and shows Clarke's comedic side in putting down probably the coolest character in her world.
As for the illustrations, they are a wonder, I am going to see about getting some books by Charles Vess, so wonderfully does he draw. And the cover of this book! So eye catching, so classy, so understated yet outstanding! In design and spirit they recall Aubrey Beardley's iconic work. One of the best designed covers I've seen this year.
Clarke writes about magic but she needs none to enchant the reader, using only her skill as a writer and her unique imagination to burn the story into your mind and float into your dreams. A highly recommended read and I'm not the only one who hopes that the sequel to "Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell" won't take her nearly as long as her first book (which I think was around ten years). Meanwhile, books like this are designed to stop the hunger but I for one am only made hungrier for more. Keep it up and keep them coming, Ms Clarke!