Magazine article The Spectator

Magic and Mischief

Magazine article The Spectator

Magic and Mischief

Article excerpt

THE LADIES OF GRACE ADIEU AND OTHER STORIES by Susanna Clarke Bloomsbury, £25, pp. 256, ISBN 0747587035 . £20 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

Susanna Clarke taps enchantingly into a vein of folkloric gold. She presents our world as existing in tandem with 'Faerie', but without butterfly-winged Victoriana. Instead she creates a sense of danger, as if the Faeries in question are the displaced gods of Robert Graves' The White Goddess, still retaining elements of frightful power over mankind.

Her debut novel, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, was hard to miss: it worked, like a charm. A story of the relationship between two master magicians in the early 19th century, it combined wit, vigour and elegance with a cracking good story.

Clarke convinced us that magic is part of the world we live in: 'part of what a man is, just as flight is part of what a bird is', as the pseudo-scholarly introduction to these short stories says.

These tales read as if Jane Austen had rewritten the Brothers Grimm. Clarke's characters must use their intelligence and resourcefulness to outwit the inhuman powers of the inscrutable Faeries. In 'The Duke of Wellington Misplaces his Horse', the hero stumbles into Faerie when his horse Copenhagen is left outside one night. Going in search of him, he comes across a young lady who is sewing furiously: ' "And for whom are you doing such a monstrous quantity of embroidery, my dear?" The lady smiled ever so slightly. …

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