Book review: The Ladies of Grace Adieu and other stories by Susanna Clarke

The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke

In 2004, Susanna Clarke published Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, one of the best fantasy novels of the century. In 2006, this was followed by The Ladies of Grace Adieu, stories set in the same milieu as Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. But then we had to wait until 2020 for Piranesi, as astonishing a book as I have read in the last twenty years.

I would like very much, with such an extraordinary writer, to be reading new work from her every year. But reading her novels and stories, it’s clear that this will never happen: Clarke is a writer who sweats the words onto the page. They are pulled out, extracted, removed from somewhere deep within with all the effort and pain that such deep excavation requires: we are fortunate to have had as much as we have had from her.

That’s not to say that the writing is forced or laboured: far from it. What it is, is precise. Every word, fits. Fits precisely into its immediate context, within sentence and paragraph, and its wider context within the story. The stories have the feel of faceted jewels where every face has been cut and polished to perfection. Such polish cannot be achieved save with time and effort: I shudder to think how much thought goes into every page that she has written. So thank you, Susanna. This reader, at least, appreciates what you do very much.


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