Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

Title: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell
Author: Susanna Clarke
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 2004

Recommendation: A must read for those who enjoy Gothic atmosphere, magic, and history.
Rating: 9/10

Summary: Mr. Norrell is the first magician in ages to actually do practical magic in an age where only theoretical magicians are left. He demonstrates his magic in Yorkshire and then moves to London to start the revival of English magic.

Jonathan Strange becomes a magician in a very different fashion, but then comes to apprentice himself to Mr. Norrell. These two different magicians will then shape the history of English magic.

Reactions: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is a very unusual work of fantasy. The format of the novel is surprisingly riddled with footnotes. The footnotes refer to books mentioned within the story, real-life references, and even tell back stories on their own. I found the format to work quite well, except for the size of the text which gets tiring on the eyes. The footnotes worked well with the tone of the book and were often a pretty interesting diversion from the main story line.

Speaking of the story line, this is not a book I would recommend to those who enjoy fast-paced, action-packed books. While the story is interesting, it tends to weave and wave and move around. There are times when I felt things were moving rather slowly and then they would pick up and I would be unable to put the book away. The pacing is a little strange and it took me quite a bit of time to get through all 1000 pages of the paperback edition, but at no point was I considering giving it up.

The story is very character driven, we learn the history of the two magicians, how their characters and their relationship with each other develops and many of their actions make sense to us because of that. Jonathan Strange is a much more sympathetic character than Mr. Norrell, but I also very much enjoyed reading about the supporting characters. There is Stephen Black, a servant of Sir Walter Pole, whose destiny is to become a King. There is also Lady Pole, who was brought back to life just to spend half of it in the faerie kingdom. We get to spend time with Lord Wellington and see the Battle of Waterloo as well as meet Lord Byron. Interesting characters crop up throughout the book and Clarke takes her time exploring them and their relationships to each other.

The scope of the book is rather epic. There is an amazing amount of research clearly put into the book as well as magical history woven very skillfully into the story. Everything from dates of birth to names of residences of older magicians may get mentioned and we get a logical extrapolation of early 19th century England as if the magic was always there.

Overall, I was extremely impressed with the novel. It conveyed the tone, mood, and sentiment of 19th century England very well and managed to mix in magic, action, adventure in the right proportions to make this a very fascinating read. The story is stand-alone and the ending is satisfying though clearly with a possibility of return to the same world. I would definitely recommend this as an excellent read.


  1. How did I miss this review?

    I bought this when it came out as Gaiman was talking it up something fierce, read the first 200 pages or so and was really loving it, then got distracted and have never picked it up again. Which is a real shame because I've read her short story collection, The Ladies of Grace Adieu, a ton of times and just love it. I know it is the whole 'chunkster fear' thing, but hopefully my reading Martin will help me push past that. Every year I think I will pick this up for the R.I.P. Challenge. Though it is probably more appropriate for Once Upon a Time it has always felt like an autumn book to me.

  2. Oh, I would certainly recommend finishing it. There's a whole progression in the relationship between Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and the book is just fantastic despite its length.