I loved Susanna Clarke's "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell", which was a wonderful alternate history of 19th century Britain. That book is strongly su...moreI loved Susanna Clarke's "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell", which was a wonderful alternate history of 19th century Britain. That book is strongly suggested reading before undertaking "The Ladies of Grace Adieu", which is sort of a dessert to that 900-page meal. These stories are set in the same universe as the novel, and some involve the same characters- Strange, the Duke of Wellington, The Raven King, etc. Some are reworkings of classic fairy tales, like Rumpelstiltskin, and others are entirely original- to her credit, sometimes when you're reading Clarke, you don't know which is which- whether she took a character from some remote part of English folklore, or whether she invented it herself.
The two best stories here are original- "Mrs. Mabb" and "Mr Simonelli, or the Fairy Widower"- both are set in villages in pastoral England, and both involve fairies preying on local humans. In all of Clarke's work, fairies aren't cute- at best they're indifferent to human suffering, and at worst they're sadistic proto-gods who torture people for their own amusement. Not that the humans are much better- Clarke has a lot of fun creating variously flawed and self-involved protagonists who inevitably bring trouble on to themselves and those around them- only very occasionally, as in "Mrs. Mabb", is the main character a genuinely likable person. At times, you can't help but feel like Clarke's misanthropy might be more than literary- and that maybe her dislike for our species inspired her to create another world, where humans weren't the smuggest animals walking around.
The author most commonly cited when discussing Clarke is obviously Jane Austen- their books are set in a similar time and place, and are populated by similarly well-to-do characters described in similarly coy and lyric language. But that's the obvious comparison. A less obvious one would be to Susan Cooper, the Newbery Award winning author of the Dark is Rising trilogy. If you enjoy Clarke's eerie English mythology, you'll definitely enjoy Cooper's books, though Cooper draws more from Welsh myths than from English ones. Check them out!(less)
"The Book of Imaginary Beings" is a slim little volume in which Borges indulges a number of his interests: enumeration, imaginary realities, and the c...more"The Book of Imaginary Beings" is a slim little volume in which Borges indulges a number of his interests: enumeration, imaginary realities, and the cultural and linguistic history of Europe and Asia. He's at his best when he's describing certain particularly Borgesian animals: the minotaur in his labyrinth, the creatures who live on the other side of mirrors, the fish on whose back rests the entire world. But those are only a few of the 100+ passages here. In the others, he describes many variations on the same themes: fantasy animals which are made from combinations of parts from real animals (like the Sphinx, part human, part lion), or ones which are much larger or smaller than their counterparts in our world. So while this is essential reading for the Borges completist, if you haven't read the Collected Fictions and Non-Fictions, I'd read those first. (less)