I could talk all day about why this book was so wonderful, but I’ll do my best to condense it at least a little bit.
One of my favourite things about this novel is the writing style Susanna Clarke employs. She successfully pulls off an imitation of one of my favourite writing styles of all time, that of Jane Austen. I’ve always admired the way she could twist sentences around to come out with a grammatically beautiful, yet witty and engaging result – and Susanna Clarke does this wonderfully. Her writing is vivid, witty and satirical. There were many moments where she would include just the smallest phrase in a sentence or paragraph which would sharply cut away at some foible of England and Englishness, especially as it was in the Regency period, but in the same good-humoured manner in which Miss Austen always did.
In addition to all of this, she creates so many wonderfully individual characters that, when it came to the denouement and the narrative was quickly switching between characters and locations, I was desperate to find out what would happen to every single one of them. I found myself growing to love even characters who at the outset I didn’t particularly like, as Susanna Clarke masterfully showed glimpses into their psyches and vulnerabilities at certain points along the road and as each character’s motivations became clearer.
One of the reasons this book is so long (308,000 words or 1,006 pages) is that she takes a lot of time delving into characters and situations that are completely unnecessary to the plot; every character we come across is described in detail and we are often given a backstory and some deeper understanding of them. Having said that they are unnecessary, however, I would like to point out that I found them an invaluable part of the whole experience. It helped me feel so involved with the world she created and the characters who lived there. In addition to this, the world itself is beautifully developed. She goes into so much detail about it but manages to never be in the least bit dull. Despite the book’s length, the pacing is perfect and I would argue that these ‘unnecessary’ parts are what help it to be so well-paced, meaning that, when the last hundred and fifty pages or so started the slow build to the climax, the ending felt perfectly placed, neither rushed nor too prolonged. The book’s length should in no way be a deterrent. I enjoy her writing so much that I was definitely glad of it! If it still daunts you, then you can prefer to think of it as three books, as it is split into three volumes, though personally that would intimidate me more.
The ending to this book was incredible, too. When reading a book that has been so pleasing, one always fears the ending because that can be the thing that ruins it all. It turns out that I had no reason to worry, though, because – as the final volume slowly gathered pace – all the different plot threads started to come together and in the end everything was gorgeously tied up, no loose ends left blowing about. Nor was it at all predictable! I kept trying to guess exactly how it would all work out using what hints had already been dropped earlier on, but nothing came out quite how I expected while still making complete sense with what had already passed.
Please give this book a go. It’s definitely worth it and it has even made its way onto my list of favourite books. I will be picking up a copy of The Ladies of Grace Adieu and anything else Susanna Clarke may happen to write. If she writes much more, she may well become one of my favourite writers.