Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Ladies of Grace Adieu, A Review

ladies of grace adieu The Ladies of Grace Adieu is a collection of seven short stories, written by Susanna Clarke. Clarke is the author of one of my favorite books, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (reviewed here). She is a very clever writer, writing in the style of Charles Dickens and Jane Austen, and her words are always a delight to read. This anthology features fairy tales, but not in the traditional setting.

"The Ladies of Grace Adieu" is the title story from this collection.  Its characters are, on the surface, three simple ladies of the times, that is to say that they're quiet, subservient, obedient, perfect in their manners, ignorant, and occasionally witty, but never clever.  No, it is unseemly for a lady to do magic.  Why, heaven forbid a woman should learn!

This story was short and featured a cameo by Jonathan Strange and his lovely wife, Arabella.  They take a trip to Grace Adieu, where a few odd things happen.  This piece was filled with humorous jabs at the old culture, and it indeed was fun to see Strange again.

"On Lickerish Hill" is told in an amusing, but sometimes confusing, Suffolk dialect.  I had to read it a bit slower to fully understand what was going on, but in the end the tale was very much like a classic folk tale of fairy mischief. This was my least favorite story in the collection, probably because the dialect was rather difficult to read and get into.

"Mrs Mabb" is the story about love. Venetia, a lonely girl who's one true love, Captain Fox, is heartbroken and angry. Fox was bewitched by that wretched but beautiful Mrs Mabb.  Venetia tries to locate Mabb's residence and win her betrothed back, but she always receives different directions to the house.  Whenever she does attempt to find the house, peculiar things always befall her.

This story kept me reading until the end.  I was quite captivated to discover the truth behind Mrs Mabb and see what would become of Venetia’s and Captain Fox’s love.

"The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse" is a short tale, but still entertaining. The magic is simple and pleasant.

"Mr Simonelli or the Fairy Widower" was the second longest story in the book, but very intriguing.  The tale is about the scholarly Mr Simonelli, who has just become the Rector of Allhope house.  There he finds five beautiful young women, a strange but likeable neighbor, a small salary, and some dangerous mystery.  This tale is told through journal entries, and I really liked it very much.  Quite whimsical, I daresay. Quite.

"Tom Brightwind, or How the Fairy Bridge was Built at Thoresby" is the longest tale in this collection, coming in at 43 pages.  This story was delightful.  It had me laughing; it had me speculating; it had me in its grip.  This tale relates a peculiar incident between the Jewish physician, David Montefiore, and his fairy friend, Tom Brightwind.  It read exactly like a footnote from JS&MN, and I loved it.

"Antickes and Frets" is a story about Mary, Queen of Scots.  The story is about Mary being held captive by her cousin, Queen Elizabeth.  She attempts to find ways to enact revenge, but things rarely go as planned.  This tale was entertaining and had me laughing a few times at some of the Queen of Scots actions.

The last story, "John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner" is another short one, but definitely my favorite from the whole lot.  Absolutely hysterical, plus a good bit of English magic involved, too.  The Cumbrian charcoal burner lives alone in the woods with his pet pig, Blakeman.  One day he's interrupted by a hunting party, who tears up his wood and runs away.  One hunter stays behind, and vengeance plus hilarity ensues.  This story also is great for anyone that wants to read a little more about the mysterious John Uskglass (you’ll know him from JS&MN).

Overall, I really enjoyed this book.  It fit right in line with the writing style and plot devices of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, and I loved it.  If you've got a hankering to read some old Faerie mischief tales, then I easily recommend you pick up The Ladies of Grace Adieu.  It is no sequel at all to Clarke's debut novel, and in fact only one or two stories feature any familiar characters.  Actually, if you’re just looking for a very quick and entertaining read, check out the book, especially “John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner.”  Once again, if you've not read JS&MN, you should add the book to your TBR list immediately.

NOTE:  I’ve been saving this book for a while to read, and with the Once Upon a Time IV challenge underway, I finally decided to open the pages and be filled with wonder.  You can find out more about this reading challenge here.


Fence said...

I must get around to rereading this and JS. I only have half-remembered memories of the stories in this, JS&DN is much clearer, but still, it was great fun :)

David Wagner said...

I may have to break down and check out this author... I'm now tempted to get a pet pig just so I can name it Blakeman... that's awesome...

Shellie (Layers of Thought) said...

Lovely review Logan -
I have read one story of the collection so far.. it was fun... and what about the pictures?
I loved them.

logankstewart said...

@Fence: Absolutely much-fun indeed! Thanks for stopping by the blog.

@David: Aye, I thought Blakeman was a great name, too. You can probably find both this book and JS&MN on Amazon for $0.01 now. In fact, I'm pretty sure you can.

@Shellie: Thank you. I can't believe I failed to mention the art in the review, but aye, I loved the drawings both from this and JS&MN. Great stuff.

Carl V. said...

Isn't it a wonderful book?!?! I have read it three or four times and yet here I am wanting so much to pick it up and read it again. It is a great book to read aloud, which I have done for my wife, last year if I remember correctly.

Although in a different vein, since you liked this I would recommend Angela Carter's slim volume of short stories, The Bloody Chamber. It really is very good and is a different take on old fairy tales and myths.

logankstewart said...

@Carl: Oh yes, definitely a wonderful book. I'll keep it on reserve for one of those days rainy, Autumn days, and perhaps re-read a favorite story or two.

Thanks for the recommendation of short stories. I've never heard of Angela Carter (I don't think), so I'll keep an eye out.

Lightheaded said...

Will add this link to my post on the short story, if that's ok with you. And I second Carl's suggestion. The Bloody Chamber is bloody good :)

logankstewart said...

@Lightheaded: Sure, no problem. Two votes for The Bloody Chamber and I've done nothing about it yet... to check the library!