A huge moment’: the novel Susanna Clarke thought would never happen
By Jane Sullivan
On the face of it, Susanna Clarke’s debut novel was an unlikely hit. More than 1000 pages, a rambling alternative history yarn for adults about rival magicians and fairies, all written in an elegant pastiche of 19th-century prose with copious footnotes. Who would buy that?
More than 4 million readers, it turned out. Bloomsbury released Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrellwith a big publicity fanfare in 2004 and it quickly climbed up the New York Times bestseller list. (See link for article)
We are talking via Zoom, and it’s early morning at Clarke’s home in rural Derbyshire, the best time of day for her. Later on she has to conserve her energy in case she gets exhausted. Lyme disease has left her with chronic fatigue.
But six months after the book was first published, she went to a dinner party and collapsed, and woke up the next morning “feeling weird”.
It was the start of her battle with the illness eventually diagnosed as Lyme disease. For a long time she was bed bound: “I had brain fog, I couldn’t think straight. This disease really does ravage every part of your life.”
She states that what gave her confidence to write again was visiting the set where they were filming her story of Strange and Norrell. While she saw herself as an invalid, they say her as an author.
How to you see yourself?