Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories, by Susanna Clarke

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You may remember how Jonathan Strange basically made me say "Eff the rules of what makes a good book."

Well, The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories maintained the same Austen-like quality of writing, preserved the same tongue-firmly-in-cheek approach, and applied the same standards to Clarke's modified world as the book's lengthier (by about ten times) predecessor. Which is to say, I should have simply loved it.

But part of what made Strange so appealing was its depth, its complexity, its nuanced expectation that the reader would pay attention, because what happened on page 7 was likely to come back into play eight hundred pages later. In this way, Clarke's writing is much like J.K. Rowling's. I hoped fervently that Rowling would let Harry Potter lie after the seventh installment, because in my opinion no further contribution to the world of Hogwarts could enrich it in any way that benefited my readings (or re-readings) of the original series.

Of course I was happy that Clarke was not done with the world of Strange. But at the same time, my idea of the world was whole. There was unexplored depth there, but it served as part of the magic and charm of the original. And these short stories, while they matched the tenor of Strange, could not hold the same depth. They are part of the foundation of the world, but just as I can appreciate the Eiffel Tower or the Taj Mahal without knowing what keeps them from falling over, I don't think we needed more glimpses into Strange's and Norrell's world of magicians.

Or if we do need them, I'd rather they match the grandeur of her debut novel without merely serving as extensions of it.

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