Susanna Clarke is an alternate history, fantasy and science fiction author from Cambridge England. She was born in 1959 in Nottingham and spent much of her childhood between several towns in Scotland and Northern England. She went to college in Oxford at St Hilda’s College before she went on to work in various areas of publishing at “Quarto” and “Gordon Fraser.” In 1990, she relocated to Turin to become a teacher of English to executives of the Fiat Motor Company. She moved to Bilbao and taught English there for several months in 1991 before coming back to England in 1992. It was while she was living in Durham County that she began writing the manuscript for “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.” While she was working on her novel, she took a job with the Simon and Schuster publishing company in Cambridge where she was an editor for the cookery list. Apart from her novels, she also published seven novellas and short stories that have been featured in several American anthologies. Her short fiction “Mr. Simonelli or The Fairy Widower” made the shortlist for the 2001 World Fantasy Award. She currently lives with her partner Colin Greenland the reviewer and novelist in Cambridge.
Clarke was inspired to write her debut novel “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell” by boredom combined with an intrusive and restless kind of imagination. She had a very active imagination that took her to interesting places that were full of fascinating people. She soon started writing down her ideas and creating the core for her debut novel. As a child, she had always been in love with magicians maybe because they lived in rooms full of interesting and strange objects and that they know some things that are unknown to other people. She was particularly fascinated with the “Narnia” stories by C.S. Lewis among several other fantasy fiction stories. In her debut novel, she was creating a convincing story of magicians and magic similar to the “Earthsea” stories by Ursula Le Guin. What makes her novels different from many others is the world building as she makes her worlds and the magic and magicians seem very realistic. She has asserted that in writing the novel she wanted to make it a little disappointing, difficult and a little prosaic rather than just being all glamor. Apart from the likes of Ursula, and C.S Lewis, she was also influenced by classical authors such as Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Neil Gaiman, and Jess Whedon among many other authors of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
It took Susanna Clarke more than a decade to write “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell,” which she believes is a lot of time to spend on anything unless if you are educating a child, growing a garden or building a cathedral. She did historical research on military and political history and learned a lot about Venice and London. Clarke also loved discovering the emotions and feelings of the soldiers on the battlefield and coming to know of their everyday concerns and hence read on military campaigns. She did her research on real-life characters from history such as Samuel Briscall the renowned chaplain and Colquhoun Grant the explorer. In her debut novel, she writes an engaging fantasy novel that introduces her readers to a Jane Austen style world that is richly textured. It is a world where magical fantasy exists alongside drama very similar to the Neil Gaiman novels. The novel was adapted into a TV series in 2015. After the wild success of her debut, she went on to publish “The Ladies of Grace Adieu,” a short story collection in 2006. In 2020 it was announced that she would be publishing two further novels starting with “Piranesi.” The novel is titled after its lead character though it is set in a different world from that of “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.”
Susanna Clarke’s novel “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell” is an ingeniously convincing, witty, and sophisticated novel. Clarke shows herself a master at weaving magic in an elegant story that makes for a detailed and flawless vision of historical England. English magicians once had the world at their feet as they could command the woods, mountains, and winds and had fairy servants to do whatever they wished. However, things started to change in the 19th century as they could no longer perform magic and resorted to writing dull long papers on the craft. But in the Yorkshire villa of Hurtfew Abbey, the reclusive and rich Mr. Norrell has accumulated a massive library of long-forgotten and lost books from the glorious magical past of England. Using the knowledge from the books, he raises a beautiful woman from the dead and is soon at the forefront of the war against Napoleon. He confuses the French by creating ghostly ships that cause chaos among their ranks. Norrell is ruling the roost until the charming, handsome and talkative Jonathan Strange arrives on the scene. Strange is a very different personality from Norrell and thinks nothing of the hardships of performing magic on campaign with Wellington. He wants to learn under Mr. Norrell who readily agrees to teach him everything he knows. But they are soon in conflict over what direction English magic needs to take. Strange is attracted to the most perilous and wild magic while Mr. Norrell believes in harnessing and controlling magic. Strange’s reckless pursuit of long-lost magic may be the end of not only their partnership but of something they both hold dear.
Clarke’s “Piranesi” is a hypnotic and intoxicating story set in an alternate dreamlike reality. Piranesi’s house is a strange building with endless corridors, infinite rooms and walls lines with hundreds of statues. In the labyrinth of rooms and corridors, there is a huge ocean that can flood rooms in an instant. However, much of the time it is quite tame though it regularly thunders up the staircases. But the owner is not afraid as he has studied the tides and knows all about the house which he has explored right down to the minutest detail. He is not all alone in the house as there is a man who visits him two days a week. The man that is known as “The Other” usually comes to the house to ask for help with research into a Secret and Great Knowledge that Piranesi has. In recent times, Piranesi’s explorations have shown that there may be another person in the house and that there is a dangerous world beyond the house that he has yet to explore. The author introduces a world of surreal beauty, startling images, and an infinite labyrinth haunted by clouds and tides.
Books in order of publication by series:
|Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell||(2004)|
|The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories||(2004)|
|The Secret History of Fantasy||(2010)|