Dec 10, 2009

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

by Susanna Clarke

This book was an amazing read. And it felt immensely satisfying to finish it, because recently all the extra-long books I've picked up have dragged on me and been abandoned. Not this one! Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell kept me intrigued and reading day after day, almost reluctant to finish the last chapters because I didn't want it to end!

It's set in an alternative version of 19th century England- a period in which the art of magic has languished for decades and become quite a disreputable occupation. Mr. Norrell, a quiet, scholarly, reclusive gentleman, determines that he alone can restore English magic to its former glory. He tries influencing government and high society with his opinions on magical issues, while at the same time squelching other magicians' aspirations and monopolizing the resources of magical books. Then along comes Jonathan Strange, a daring adventuresome man quite unlike Norrell, who seems to have a natural talent for magic and makes himself Norrell's pupil, later becoming more of a colleague and finally his worst rival. When one of them raises a woman from the dead, a malevolent fairy fixes his attention on them, and it quickly becomes apparent how little these esteemed men actually know about magic; they are only scratching the surface of things far more dangerous and mysterious than they can imagine. I loved how the fairy world was depicted, as existing side-by-side with England, accessible through mirrors and pools, shifting just under the surface of things, like a second skin. The plot is complex, introducing scores of characters and numerous little stories (many in the form of footnotes) that add flavor and flair to the main narrative. I found all these just as interesting as the main events, and lapped up all the rich details. This book feels as much a historical fiction novel (of a time period and style I don't usually read about, so maybe it's opening another door for me there) as it does an epic fantasy. I read about it on so many other blogs before coming across my own copy at a thrift store (fifty cents!) that I don't really know who to give credit for first sparking my interest in reading it. It's one of those listed below; if anyone else has read it and wants to pitch in their voice, I'll be glad to add your link- just let me know.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 782 pages, 2004

More opinions at:
A Reader's Journal
Shelf Love
Across the Page
Educating Petunia
The Literary Word
This Delicious Solitude
The Novel World
Jenny's Books

11 comments:

softdrink said...

I always thought this was a horror tale...maybe because the title is so similar to Dr Jekyl and Mr Hyde? It actually sounds quite interesting!

Literary Feline said...

I agree, Jeane. This is such an amazing book. I really love Susana Clarke's writing style.

farmlanebooks said...

I enjoyed reading this book, but did find it dragged in sections. It took me about 6 months to read and I'm not sure I read anything else at the same time (pre-blogging days!) At that time I normally read about a book a week, so this book seriously stalled my reading and I was very pleased to finally finish it.

Jeane said...

Softdrink- There are definitely some scary parts, but it's not horror- more like suspense and mystery than anything.

Literary Feline- I enjoy the writing style, too. I want to read the Ladies of Grace Adieu, now!

Farmlanebooks- Six months is a long time! I probably would have given up if it was going so slow for me. (I think the longest I've spent on a book is 2 months, and that was Moby Dick)

Jenny said...

I'm glad you liked it - I loved this book, but I rarely recommend it to people just because it's so incredibly long! I love it so much I have two copies - the great big hardback in black, and then a little box set that has the book in three paperback volumes for when I want to read it in shopping lines or on the bus. :) I can't wait for Clark to write her next book.

bermudaonion said...

I've heard about this book but never really knew what it's about. You've piqued my interest!

Jeane said...

Jenny- I was wondering if it had ever been published in three separate volumes. That would certainly be easier to tote around. I'm eager to read her next one, too.

Bermudaonion- Good! I'll be watching to see what you think of it, someday.

carolsnotebook said...

I really want to read this, but it's so long.

Teresa said...

I'm so glad to see that you enjoyed this! It is, hands-down, one of my top-five favorites from recent years. A near perfect book, as far as I'm concerned.

Janet said...

Loved reading your review. I share many of your feelings!

On the website, it says a sequel is planned. I can't wait.

They're making a movie of it, too. That, I can wait for... It could be really good, or they could get it all wrong and make it too dark. We'll see!

Jeane said...

Carolsnotebook- That felt daunting to me at first, too- but the pages just flew by!

Teresa- It is excellent, isn't it?

Janet- The entire time I was reading I kept picturing it translated onto film. I'll be eager to see that, and read the sequel!