books

Susanna Clarke

Books

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (2004), The Ladies of Grace Adieu (2006)

Anthologies: The Sandman Book of Dreams (1996), The Secret History of Fantasy (2010), The Way of the Wizard (2010), Happily Ever After (2011)

 

 

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (2004)

I got Michael this book for Christmas last year, but put off reading it myself because the book is huge: 800 pages huge. It's not the kind of book I could curl up with; instead I had to set the book on the table, or prop it up in my lap, or lean it against a pillow.

But it was worth it.

This is an excellent book. I loved the story. I loved the characters. I loved the setting. I loved the idea. I loved the writing. I loved everything.

It's the 19th century, and magic has almost entirely disappeared from England. There are theoretical magicians who study the old texts and stories, but there do not seem to be any practical magicians.

Until Mr Norrell shows up.

Mr Norrell was very well pleased. Lord Liverpool was exactly the sort of guest he liked--one who admired the books buy shewed no inclination to take them down from the shelves and read them.

Despite everything, I like Mr Norrell.

But that's all I want to tell you, because one of the things I loved about this book is discovering what happens and watching the story unfold.

The characters are also wonderful. I love Jonathan Strange--he's wonderful. And the other characters are also very good, especially Stephen Black. There is something about Stephen Black then I just kept hoping that things were going to work out for him.

And I loved the writing.

Today Spitalfields is inhabited by the low and the poor and is much plagued with small boys, thieves, and other persons inimicable to the peace of citizens.

I love the buried in descriptions and if you aren't paying attention you'll miss it, kind of humor.

It was not that the Ministers were dull-witted — upon the contrary there were some brilliant men among them. Nor were they, upon the whole, bad men; several led quite blameless domestic lives and were remarkably found of children, music, dogs, landscape painting.

And the descriptions themselves, of this strange England, are wonderful. They remind me somewhat of Arthur Conan Doyle's descriptions of England and the countryside, though I don't know exactly why.

And the real bits that she works in are lovely, like this bit about Lord Byron.

And though my companions are careful to tell people that I am that dreadful being, an English magician, I am clearly nothing in comparison to an English poet and everywhere I go I enjoy the reputation—quite new to me I assure you—of the quite, good Englishman, who makes no noise and is no trouble to anymore…

This is simply a wonderful book.

If you have not already read it (it has, after all, been out for more than a year) I highly recommend you read Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. But set aside some time and space at home for it, because this isn't a book you can stick in your pocket and take with you.

And this book was very close to being a 10/10. Only the sheer size of the book, and how uncomfortable it was to read, knocked it down to a 9.
Rating: 9/10

Re-Read: December 2011

I admit it. When I saw this on sale on the kindle I grabbed it even though we already have the hardback book. Because this is a HUGE book, and it’s so much nicer to read a kindle than an 800 page hardback book.

And since I had it on the kindle, that meant it was time to re-read the story, right?

I’d forgotten that the first portion of the book is mostly Mr Norrell. Who I don’t particularly like (I don’t think one is supposed to, actually.) He’s not evil. He’s not mean. He’s just weak and selfish. And that’s one of the (many) strong points of this book. Norrell isn’t a villain, he just isn’t a good person. And Strange isn’t a hero, he just tends to believe things I find a little more reasonable.

I think this sentence kinda sums it up.

It was not that the Ministers were dull-witted — upon the contrary there were some brilliant men among them. Nor were they, upon the whole, bad men; several led quite blameless domestic lives and were remarkably found of children, music, dogs, landscape painting.

There is no good or evil, there are just men.

This is a very long book, but the humor is perfectly dry.

(T)he other ministers considered that to employ a magician was one thing, novelists were quite another and they would not stoop to it.

Mr Norrell was very well pleased. Lord Liverpool was exactly the sort of guest he liked — one who admired books but shewed no inclination to take them down from the shelves and read them.

There was an elderly bunch of celery that had lived too long and too promiscuously in close companionship with the charcoal for its own good.

(I don’t know what it is, but that sentence cracks me up.)

(T)hough the room was silent, the silence of half a hundred cats is a pecuilar thing, like fifty individual silences all piled one on top of another.

I’m not sure about cats in this instance, but there are silences, and then there are silences.

She spoke Basque, which is a language which rarely makes any impression upon the brains of any other races, so that a man may hear it as often and as long as he likes, but never afterwards be able to recall a single syllable of it.

I think that’s somewhat less Basque and more general to any language one had to study in school.
Rating: 9/10

 

The Ladies of Grace Adieu (2006) Illustrated by Charles Vess

The Ladies of Grace Adieu is a collection of short stories set in the same world was Jonathan Strange and Mister Norrell during the 18th and 19th centuries. Several of the stories revolve around familiar characters–Jonathan Strange, the Raven King, the Duke of Wellington. Others are retellings and reworkings of folk tales, such as Tom Tit Tot, which is written with language and spellings similar to the tone of the original story.

As much as I loved Jonathan Strange and Mister Norrell, I found The Ladies of Grace Adieu to be hit and miss. Some of the stories I loved, some I found disappointing. The stories that I liked the most tended to have the same tone as Jonathan Strange and Mister Norrell, including footnotes in Tom Brightwind, which was probably my favorite story in the collection.

On Lickerish Hill was one of the stories I found disappointing. I found the language somewhat difficult to read, and the story jumped around a bit. It's probable she was trying to keep to the tone and feel of the original story, however, "Tom Tit Tot" is not one of my favorite folktales, in that I've never particularly liked any of the characters, which meant that a somewhat difficult story was made more difficult, since I disliked most of the characters involved.

But over all, most of the stories were very good, and I enjoyed them. Mr Simonelli had the feel of a folktale, but I couldn't place it's source. Antickes and Frets I found especially interesting, as I recently finished a book or Queen Elizabeth and Mary Queen of Scotts.

But my favorite story in the collection was Tom Brightwind. Tom Brightwind tells of the friendship between the fairy Tom Brightwind and the Jewish doctor David Montefiore. Like Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, this story had footnotes and added to both the story and the characters. Also like Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, the story wandered to and fro, with the details about the characters and the world just as interesting as the tale itself.

If you have not read Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, then the story Tom Brightwind should give you a good idea of the tone of the book. If you are already a fan of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, then you'll snatch this book up, because who knows how long it will be before we see another novel by Susanna Clarke, and while several of the stories were only so-so, others had the tone and feel that I enjoyed so much in the novel.
Rating: 6/10

 

Anthologies

 

The Sandman Book of Dreams (1996) edited by Neil Gaiman and Ed Kramer

Masquerade and High Water by Colin Greenland
Chain Home, Low by John M. Ford
Stronger Than Desire by Lisa Goldstein
Each Damp Thing by Barbara Hambly
The Birth Day by B.W. Clough
Splatter by Will Shetterly
Seven Nights in Slumberland by George Alec Effinger
Escape Artist by Caitlin R. Kiernan
An Extra Smidgeon of Eternity by Robert Rodi
The Writer's Child by Tad Williams
Endless Sestina by Lawrence Schimel
The Gate of Gold by Mark Kreighbaum
A Bone Dry Place by Karen Haber
The Witch's Heart by Delia Sherman
The Mender of Broken Dreams by Nancy A. Collins
Ain't You 'Most Done? by Gene Wolfe
Valóság and Élet by Steven Brust
Stopp't-Clock Yard by Susanna Clarke
Afterword: Death by Tori Amos

It took me several months to read this book, not because it was boring, but because I was carrying it back and forth to work to read at lunch, or if I had to go somewhere for an appointment. This means that as I finished the last story in the book, I could barely remember the first story in the book.

I liked B.W. Clough’s The Birth Day, a story of the beginning of an idea. I also liked Robert Rodi’s An Extra Smidgen of Eternity, which is the second of two stories about Wanda from A Game of You. I liked A Bone Dry Place by Karen Haber, because it had several of the Endless interacting, although the story that tied everything together confused me, even on a second read. One of my favorite stories was Nancy A. Collin’s The Mender of Broken Dreams. I quite liked the idea of the creatures of the realm of dream wondering about themselves. I of course loved Steven Brust’s Valosag and Elet, but then I tend to love everything that Steven Brust writes, so you’ll have to consider the source. One of the stories merits is that it is written as a folktale, and since I love folktales, that made it all the more endearing.

The horror tales were my least favorite. Will Shetterly’s Splatter was set during The Doll’s House collection in the Collectors, one of the more gruesome tales. The Writer’s Child by Tad Williams is disturbing, although everything is alright in the end. But I don’t particularly care for horror, so you’d best not take my opinion if you like it yourself. The stories were well written, but they were not anything that I particularly enjoy so take that as you will.

There was so much more that I wanted to say about these stories, but it’s been over a month since I finished the collection, so I best say this for now, lest I forget everything.

These were stories written in the world of the Sandman, but they were not written by Neil Gaiman. If you liked Sandman and like short stories, then you’ll like this collection. But if you are looking for more of Neil Gaiman’s writing, or know little or nothing of The Sandman, then this collection is probably not for you.

Published by Harper Torch

The Secret History of Fantasy (2010) edited by Peter S. Beagle

This is an interesting collection of short stories, by some very good authors. I can’t say all the stories were to my taste, but they were all very good.

...

Susanna Clarke’s “John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner” I found very amusing, which was a nice change of pace from all the sad stories that came before it. And that is followed by “The Book of Martha” by Octavia E. Butler which isn’t sad and isn’t scary but is about God.

...

All in all, an excellent collection of stories, albeit one I don’t recommend reading when you’re depressed.
Rating: 8/10

The Way of the Wizard (2010) edited by John Joseph Adams

way_of_the_wizardI love anthologies. They give me an escape in bite size pieces that won’t keep me up past my bed time on a work night, and they also often a wonderful introduction to authors I have not read previously.

This anthology focuses upon wizards of all sorts, doing wizardly things, though not very many evil wizards.

...

I’d previously read “John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner” by Susanna Clarke in her anthology. It contains many of the things that I liked so much about Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.

“Well,” said Saint Kentigern, cheerfully. “Let me see what I can do. Saints, such as me, ought always to listen attentively to the prayers of poor, dirty, ragged men, such as you. No matter how offensively those prayers are phrased. You are our special care.”

...

There were multiple stories I didn’t care for, but on the whole, I found it a good and enjoyable collection. After all, I don’t have to read the stories I don’t like.
Rating: 7/10

Published by Prime Books 

Happily Ever After (2011) edited by John Klima

Happily Ever AfterNot sure how I missed this when I first came out, but this anthology is full of things I love: authors whose books I love, stories based on folk and fairy tales–lovely!

The only thing I didn’t like, is I wish the anthology hadn’t ended on such a dark and depressing story.

Mind you, the dark and depressing stories were good–very good–but these tales ran very true to the original stories, with a not insignificant amount of rape and incest and general horribleness. Just like the original tales.

But there’s also a good amount of humor as well, and I just wished the collection had ended with one of the funnier stories.

...

As one would expect, “Mr. Simonelli or the Fairy Widower” by Susanna Clarke was as winding and meandering and wonderful as you’d expect from her.

No one would enjoy vast wealth more than I; and my feelings are not entirely selfish, for I honestly believe that I am exactly the sort of person who ought to have the direction of large estates.

Of course.

...

Please note, as previously mentioned, the stories have rape and incest and lots and lots of sex in addition to evil stepmothers and other such killers.

There were also a fair number of very dark and very depressing tales that were very good, but that I didn’t enjoy at all.
Rating:8/10

Published by Night Shade Books

 

Susanna Clarke website