Saturday, February 3, 2007

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell


Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is the magical creation of Susanna Clarke. It is the story of the return of magic to England some 200 years ago. It takes place in a time when magic was no longer practiced in England, but still studied by many. Mr. Norrell, a practical magician, decides that he shall return magic to England, but has no idea how out of control a little magic can get when he takes on a task that proves to be bigger than him.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is by no means a page turner, at least not until the last 200 or so pages. The Washington Post describes it by saying that "Many books are to be read, some are to be studied, and a few are meant to be lived in for weeks." This is one that applies to all of the above categories. However, what keeps the reader reading is an interesting, constantly evolving story line and a sense of magic in Susanna Clarke's words. Her writing is exquisite and is captivating in itself.

As I first started this book, I was a little disappointed. I thought that the story was too slow and that it wasn't driving enough. The book is broken up into three parts. The first two parts of the book are spent setting up the tale, introducing us to the many delightful if not woeful characters, and setting a magical tone. When part three of the book kicks in, it turns into a page turner. When I got to part three, I appreciated the time she took in parts one and two setting the tale up. In part three of this book, you can literally feel the magic coming off of the pages. It's wonderful!

As you read the pages of this book, you feel like you are in fact reading history. The book is complete with very informative footnotes, and I found myself often forgetting that this was a work of fiction. She even incorporates Lord Byron into the book, a wonderful surprise. While he doesn't play a main character, he shows how capable Clarke is of spinning a convincing tale.

Portia Rosenberg contributes the perfect illustrations for the book. They seem to me to be charcoal drawings that are very reflective of what book illustrations may have looked like at the time of Mr. Strange and Mr. Norrell. Very fitting for this book. They contribute to the dark tone of many parts of the book.

This book is like reading a cross between Jane Austen and Neil Gaiman. Certainly a book of fantasy, yet so realistic at the same time...an oxymoron if you will, and I mean that in the best way possible. Susanna Clarke won the Hugo award for this novel in 2005 and I can think of no one more deserving. Quite impressive for her first novel. Truly a fascinating read. I can't wait to start digging into my signed, first edition copy of The Ladies of Grace Aldieu, Clarke's second publication, a collection of short stories that is beautifully illustrated.

10 comments:

Literacy-chic said...

Wow! Sounds interesting! I'll have to add that to my list of things I really want to read!

Chris said...

It really was a wonderful book :) Someone on the back cover described her as better than Tolkien...that may be going a bit far, but it's a great read nonetheless and will definitely become a classic.

Carl V. said...

I bought and started JS when it first came out and read the first 250 pages or so, utterly enchanted the whole time. Then I did my usual habit and picked up something else that caught my eye, etc, etc and now months and months and months have gone by and I haven't finished it. That's one of my reading goals this year as I loved what I had read up to that point. I also have Ladies (2 copies actually...I bought the signed edition and one to read) that I want to get to.

Chris said...

You won't regret finishing Jonathan Strange. It was so good! Still with me today.

Craig said...

I'm nearing the end of this epic, and I'm starting to freak out that it's almost over! This is the first time that I've wished a 782-page book would keep going on and on! Apparently, the book has sold well, so I hope Susanna Clarke is encouraged to tackle a sequel.

Craig said...

I'm nearing the end of this epic, and I'm starting to freak out that it's almost over! This is the first time that I've wished a 782-page book would keep going on and on! Apparently, the book has sold well, so I hope Susanna Clarke is encouraged to tackle a sequel.

Chris said...

Thanks for stopping by Craig. Isn't it a fantastic book! I felt the same way. At the beginning I was thinking "where's this going?" By the end, I didn't want it to end either. No talk of a sequel yet, but that would be pretty cool. She'd definitely make some money off of it.

Craig said...

Re: a possible sequel, I just found an interview with Susanna Clarke. When asked "What’s next for you? What’s next for Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell?" she replied:

The next book will be set in the same world and will probably start a few years after Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell finishes. I feel very much at home in the early nineteenth century and am not inclined to leave it. I doubt that the new book will be a sequel in the strictest sense. There are new characters to be introduced, though probably some old friends will appear too. I’d like to move down the social scale a bit. Strange and Norrell were both rich, with pots of money and big estates. Some of the characters in the second book have to struggle a bit harder to keep body and soul together. I expect there’ll be more about John Uskglass, the Raven King, and about how magic develops in England.

This interview is located at this BBC page.

Of course, since the first book took her ten years to write, who knows how long we'll have to wait for the follow-up?

Chris said...

Awesome! Thanks so much for posting that. I don't know if you've read it yet, but she does have a book of short stories out called "The Ladies of Grace Aldieu" which feature plenty of the characters from JS&MN. Excellent book so far. I recommend it.

Celestial Elf said...

Inspired by Susanna's brilliant writings (of Jonathan Strange and Mr.Norell) thought you might enjoy my short piece entitled
How To Avoid (Or To Invite) Enchantment by Faries, Elves & Elementals;
I have recorded soundfile (with music) at top page,
so settle back and enjoy.....
http://celestialelfdanceoflife.blogspot.com/2012/01/how-to-avoid-or-invite-enchantment-by.html