Monday, April 25, 2011
Trickery and lies
Clarke's fairies are not the tiny, spritely beings of the Cottingley Fairies. Clarke's fairies are witty, charming, amoral, and frequently sadistic psychopaths. The book opens with the titular ladies of Grace Adieu, three proper, reserved Englishwomen who take drastic means to dispatch a threat to their idyllic existence. "Mrs. Mabb" and "Thomas Simonelli, or the Fairy Widower" show Clarke's fairies at their cheerful, deceptive worst. In "Thomas Simonelli," a particularly vicious fairy torments a small English village, and the description of his horrific retinue and decaying castle is particularly disturbing. John Uskglass does get his comeuppance from a humble peasant in the funny "John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner."
The book itself is lovely, with a soft gray-and-pink embossed cover and delicate, Aubrey Beardsley-esque illustrations. Although the stories are light confections compared to the dense, multi-layered Jonathan Strange, Clarke aptly displays her skill at simultaneously imitating and skewering literary conceits.