But Time putt a trick on him

The faeries in Susanna Clarke’s world are not friendly little creatures with magic wands, but the faeries of folklore: Dangerous creatures who live on the border between sanity and madness. This border is also a physical border. There are many places in England where you can cross into Faerie, often unawares. A bridge, a bush, a forest. Inside, time moves differently, and common sense is useless. Whether you’re chained to an insect-ridden bed or a guest at a wonderful palace may depend entirely on which eye you’re seeing with.

I’m not sure what I could say about Jonathan Strange & Mr Norell to do it justice. Luckily I’m not reviewing Clarke’s debut novel, but The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories, a collection of stories set in the same alternate England. These are the stories Clarke published during the ten years she spent writing Strange. The emphasis is more on women than in her novel, and more on faeries than on magic. The style is the same, 19th century fiction with eyebrows slightly raised, but lighter, without the oppressive mood of Strange‘s subplots.

This is a clear recommendation for anyone who liked Strange. Another recommendation: Hope Mirrlees’s Lud-in-the-Mist, Clarke’s 1926 forerunner. Lud-in-the-Mist uses the same theme of a land of common sense and a Faerie land of madness that border each other, with people crossing from one to the other with curious results. Strange is more accomplished, with its alternate history of English magic, but what made it great was also there in Lud-in-the-Mist.

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