Thursday, April 1, 2010

Review of 'Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel'

Sometimes you visit someone's house and they have gardens. Not landscaping, but gardens. And you know, if you've gardened, that it takes a lot of work to keep the weeds at bay. That you have to divide daylillies, and that narcissiums have to be grown from seed and can't be transplanted. You see the rocks all lined up on the borders, no grass growing up between them, and you know that your friends love their garden. It's a palpable feeling to be in such a beautiful place.

And I love the cover.
So simple, but eyecatching and matches the contents perfectly.

Reading 'Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel' by Susanna Clarke was like that for me. She spent ten years writing this beautiful story, and it shows.

I won't lie. This is not a book you can skim. You have to pay attention to every single word, and it's 800 pages. It took me two renewals to make it through. But very worth it.

It took a while to find some lines that could stand on their own and give you a taste of the wit you will be treated to on every single page, but here's a few quotes.
-"A great magician has said of his profession that it's practitioners '...must pound and rack their brains to make the least learning go in, but quarreling always come very naturally to them,' and the York magicians had proved the truth of this for a number of years."
-"A gentleman in Mr. Norrel's position with a fine house and a large estate will always be of interest to his neighbors and, unless those neighbors are very stupid, they will always contrive to know a little of what he does."
-"But Drawlight, who had begun to believe that if anyone had dies of boredom then he was almost certain to expire within the next quarter of an hour, found that he had lost the will to speak and the best he could manage was a withering smile." (while listening to Mr Norrel go on about his magical theories.)
The story is about two 19th century English magicians, teacher and pupil, who have very different approaches to magic. Mr. Norrel is aware of the danger that faeries present to humans, and wants to write them- and the long-gone human-born faerie-raised ruler, the Raven King, out of history. His is a quest to limit knowledge and eventually this drives his pupil, Jonathan Strange, to practice magic independently. They are able to work together during the Napoleonic Wars, but not long enough to recognize the enchantments that their friends and associates are under. Will they look up from their books long enough to realize what magic is growing around them, endangering their accomplishments, their respectability, and their families?

If you like Jane Austen, this may be the fantasy for you. And I will add that the last page surprised me.
Anybody else read it? Any comments? No spoilers, please!


  1. I have not read it. I love your analogy about the gardens. 10 years? Wow.

    I think I might just check it out. Thanks

  2. Hey..I went straight to my swaptree account (where I have a bunch of old movies I'm ready to swap) and initiated a trade for this book! So I'll be getting my own copy soon. Thanks!

  3. *smiles* I feel like I'm an all-powerful mind controller. Thanks for that, Amber. It's really funny, in a dry, English sort of way. Let me know what you think, in like, two months;)

  4. This book sounds AWESOME. The tone and subject matter remind me of Christopher Priest's THE PRESTIGE - have you read it? (It's nothing like the film, by the way, although I liked both.)

  5. I haven't read THE PRESTIGE. I saw the movie and enjoyed that but hadn't realized there was a book. Thanks for the recommend, Krista.

  6. Ooh, a surprising last page - intriguing! You rarely get those anymore.

  7. ISTTS, it wasn't a huge twist, it was just that the resolution didn't match my expectations. I'm thinking of rewriting it for the author;)

  8. I loved this book. It was amazing. Especially for a debut. I've read it twice now and I still love it.