Adventures in Reading

The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories by Susanna Clarke

“Above all remember this: that magic belongs as much to the heart as to the head and everything which is done, should be done from love or joy or righteous anger.”

Yesterday I mentioned that one of the books I was working my way through was Susanna Clarke’s The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories. I just so happened to finish it on this rather chilly, autumn afternoon. Clarke is perhaps best known for her lengthy novel Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, which came out in 2005 and received quite a few awards and quite a bit of criticism. Clarke usually appears to be listed under fantasy, but despite the fantastical notions of her works it still does not seem an appropriate genre to place her in. At the same time historical fiction does not seem like an apt description either. When her novel first came out, I remember glancing at a review, which described the book as an adult Harry Potter — this could not be more wrong.

As I also previously mentioned, a lot of people dislike Clarke’s works (and I was certainly one of them), but I have located a definite charm in this short story collection. The one aspect of Clarke’s works that I am sure people grapple with is her use of an early 19th Century literary tradition. Clarke is not historical fiction in the sense of writing in a fairly modern style in a historical envionrment, but it would certainly not surprise me to hear that Clarke has read most everything by Radcliffe, Austen, Sterne, Inchbald, Thackeray, Fielding, Richardson, and so forth and has loved every single one of these authors. Likewise, I am sure that she has not only read these authors but has done a very close reading as every page is loaded with appropriate decorum and etiquette and a beautiful use of syntax. If you like 19th Century literature and you like fairy tales you should most definitely take the time to peruse Clarke’s novel and short stories.

The Ladies of Grace Adieu & Other Stories is a collection of eight short stories published in various places from 1996 to 2004 and finally published as a collection in 2006. Part of the book’s charm is Charles Vess’ illustrations, which are delicate and whimsical, but never detract from the often darker situations Clarke suggests in her stories. Some of the stories such as “On Lickerish Hill” ring with folkloric familiarity, while other stories such as “The Ladies of Grace Adieu” reference the world of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Regardless of your familiarity with such things, Clarke has provided delightful tellings of 19th Century-esque stories heavily dipped into the magic and wonder of the fairy tales of the British Isles.

I will definitely find the time to pick up Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.

And another review here at the Short Story Challenge.

If You Love Me Buy Me Books

dscn1526.jpgMuch to my surprise, my parent’s neighbors (who I have only briefly known through sibling and parental association) stumbled across some lovely 1918 New Education Readers and have gifted them to me. I am quite the geek for old reading and grammar guides if only to see how things have changed (or not changed). However, it is a lovely collection of books and if I can get to a scanner I will be making use of it.

Over the weekend I barely read anything, and instead spent a great deal of time and money purchasing new books. In addition to the books I mentioned in my last post I also acquired a few more including: Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass, Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories, and Monica Ali’s Brick Lane.

A few years ago I invested in a Book Collector account only to realize today – the day I decide that I am going to begin the great adventure of cataloging my books – that my account now appears defunct. While I do have a LibraryThing account, I am not quite decided whether or not to invest in an upgraded account. So how do you catalog your books or do you not bother? At work I always come across (usually) older people with their books jotted down on a variety of notepads and napkins, and while my failing memory has not set in yet it would be nice to have my books listed in one place and keep track of what I have and have not read (and not to mention for insurance purposes as well).

Now, what I did read this weekend were portions of Susanna Clarke’s The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories, Flannery O’Connor’s Complete Short Stories, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera. The latter two are (mostly) rereads, but I decided on Clarke’s short story collection as a test to see whether or not I should bother with her much lengthier novel Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. I first listened to a good portion of the novel and could not make it through, and have since then heard many disparaging remarks directed at the book. Most of these remarks criticize the book as being overly polished, which put me in mind of Bernini’s beautifully unpolished St. Longinus statue at St. Peters. However, very quickly into the short story collection it dawned on me that Clarke’s book is by no means overly polished but that she (and with quite a fair hand) has taken upon herself to write in the literary tradition of the 19th Century. How perfect!