Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Susanna Clarke

Susanna Clarke is like the Harper Lee of fantastical alternative history, she hit it out of the park with her first and only novel. If we want to get technical, she's more J.D. Salinger, having done the aforementioned novel and a compilation of short stories, but I have issues with Salinger, so Lee it is. Clarke spent most of her childhood traveling around the north of England devouring the works of Austen, Dickens, and Conan Doyle. After graduating from Oxford she spent some time abroad teaching English during which she first got the idea for Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. "I had a kind of waking dream ... about a man in 18th century clothes in a place rather like Venice, talking to some English tourists. And I felt strongly that he had some sort of magical background – he'd been dabbling in magic, and something had gone badly wrong."

Returning to England she worked in publishing while seriously contemplating starting what would become her masterpiece. She took a fantasy and science-fiction writing workshop taught by her future partner, Colin Greenwood, to come to grips with her writing. Greenwood was so impressed by the quality of her first story, as well as the polish for a first time writer, that he sent her story, The Ladies of Grace Adieu, to his friend, Neil Gaiman, who was astounded by her assurance and said "It was like watching someone sit down to play the piano for the first time and she plays a sonata." The book was bought by Bloomsbury in 2003 and was published in 2004. My father read an early review of the book and said it sounded like it was right up my alley. I fell in love with it as soon as I started to read it. Two years later Bloomsbury published The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories, named after the story which had so wowed Greenwood and Gaiman. She spent ten years writing one of my favorite books ever and ten years on I await with baited breath hoping that her new book will one day manifest itself. If not, she will remain my Harper Lee (minus recent developments), and I do have that miniseries adaptation to look forward to...


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