Weekly Geeks: I read your work and I loved it

June 28, 2010 at 12:13 am 7 comments

susanna clarke, jonathan strange & mr norrell

Write a letter to a firm favourite author of yours, preferably someone alive – letting them know how much you either admire or even love their work.

Though there are plenty of authors I love, and I’ve written paeans to favorite authors (Ruth Reichl and Anne Fadiman leap to mind). But oddly, though I wrote a short biography on this woman, I’ve never really taken a full entry to talk about how incredible Susanna Clarke is.

Dear Ms. Clarke,

Before I read Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, I didn’t know magic could be for grown-ups. I had spent years hiding my fantasy books, afraid people would think me childish for reading Wolf Speaker or Assassin’s Apprentice in public. There was something that seemed silly about fantasy, about reading about things that simply couldn’t exist, as if I’d never outgrown playing “Let’s Pretend.”

Then I read Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. It was like someone had reached into my mind and plucked out something I didn’t even know was there — my idea of a perfect book. The brilliance of this novel didn’t strike me at first. I blame the fact that I was traveling at the time, bouncing back and forth between planes, trains and automobiles, snatching paragraphs here and there like an addict sneaking a high.

But then I sat down and read it as it was meant to be read (with my full attention and a package of color-coded post-it flags). And it knocked me off my feet. With the exception of maybe one sentence, it was so beautifully written and cunningly plotted that I couldn’t believe it was a first novel.

The England in your novel was an England I knew and recognized — it was Jane Austen’s England, it was the Bronte sisters’ England, but it was also the England of Arthur, the Once and Future King. Familiar but not clichéd, fantasy but certainly not childish, it was as if Neil Gaiman and my favorite Regency authors had collaborated on a sweeping epic. The Ladies of Grace Adieu was similarly wonderful.

And the icing on the cake is that you edited cookbooks for a living. There is something infinitely reassuring in the knowledge that you, too, have worked in a job that wasn’t exactly what you wanted to be doing, and that this didn’t hold you back from being one of the best fantasy writers of our time.

Thank you for giving me this book. I know you gave it to a lot of other people as well, but that doesn’t make it feel any less personal. I find myself thinking about it at the strangest of times — in church yesterday, when I saw a little blond boy whose hair stuck out from his head like thistledown, or when I stepped into the library at the Huntington Mansion last year and felt I was standing somewhere magical.

Anyway, thank you.


Do you have a favorite author? Write them a note in our comments! You never know who might be reading…


Entry filed under: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Weekly Geeks. Tags: , .

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7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Corey  |  June 28, 2010 at 8:34 pm

    This was totally beautiful. Thank you so much for writing it. I, of course, feel almost entirely the same way.

    What was the one sentence if I may inquire?

    Also, OMG; you’re Kate. This is like an out-of-body experience.

    • 2. Kate  |  June 28, 2010 at 8:49 pm

      I’m being very picky about this one sentence, which is on page 44 of my edition: ‘Now I do not know what may be your opinion yet to say the truth I do not much care for the south side of Hanover-square; the houses are so tall and thin – four storeys at least.’ It strikes me as an obvious attempt to make the reader feel as though the narrator is a native of the Regency era. It’s just unsubtle, which is shocking considering how subtle and nuanced the rest of Clarke’s work is.

      That’s one bad sentence in 800 pages, though. I’m lucky if I can write a 500-word article without something going awry.

      And I KNOW, I feel the same! But I’m Kate almost everywhere else now, so I thought I should make the switch. Sorry if I weirded you out!

      • 3. Kim  |  July 2, 2010 at 3:32 pm

        I don’t like the name change either!! You’re still Pookie Bear to me! haha.

  • 4. Britney  |  June 29, 2010 at 4:07 am

    I couldn’t finish Wolf Speaker, but I do have Assassin’s Apprentice on its way to me. I’m really looking forward to reading it.

    • 5. Kate  |  June 29, 2010 at 7:57 am

      Oh man, it’s so good. Really that one wasn’t too embarrassing — it’s Royal Assassin that truly has the can’t-be-seen-in-public cover. I loved the whole series, and then read the spin-off series before I totally got burned out on Robin Hobb. Enjoy!

  • 6. anothercookiecrumbles  |  July 7, 2010 at 12:12 am

    I bought this book some five years back, but never ended up reading it – quite possibly due to the size!

    I’ll be reading it in the next week or so, though, and really hope I feel the same about it as you did.

  • 7. Weekly Geeks: Recommendations « Literary Transgressions  |  August 16, 2010 at 12:21 am

    […] is the only one that you won’t feel embarrassed while reading on the subway. Maybe throw some Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and a little Perdido Street Station or The Scar in there for […]


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