Sunday, April 15, 2007

'Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell'

by Susanna Clarke
Fiction/Fantasy, Copyright 2004
Bloomsbury hardback, 780 p.
WINNER - Hugo Award: Best Novel 2005; Shortlist - Whitbread Award: First Novel 2004; Longlist - Man Booker Prize 2004

Two magicians shall appear in England. The first shall fear me; the second shall long to behold me...
Centuries ago when magic still existed in England, the greatest magician of them all was the Raven King. A human child brought up by fairies, the Raven King blended fairy wisdom and human reason to create English magic. Now at the beginning of the nineteenth century, he is barely more than a legend, and England, with its mad King and its dashing poets, no longer believes in practical magic. Then the reclusive Mr Norrell of Hurtfew Abbey appears and causes the statues of York Cathedral to speak and move. News spreads of the return of magic to England and, persuaded that he must help the government in the war against Napoleon, Mr Norrell goes to London. There he meets a brilliant young magician and takes him as a pupil. Jonathan Strange is charming, rich and arrogant. Together, they dazzle the country with their feats. But the partnership soon turns to rivalry. Mr Norrell has never conquered his lifelong habits of secrecy, while Strange will always be attracted to the wildest, most perilous magic.
It was certainly long (and heavy!), and hardly action-packed like the Harry Potter books to which it’s been compared, but it was still a very captivating read. Set in an alternate 19th c. England during the Napoleonic wars, what an imaginative, original story Clarke has created! Witty too:
For a while he had tried to persuade the other Ministers that they should commission Mr Beckford, Mr Lewis and Mrs Radcliffe to create dreams of vivid horror that Mr Norrell could then pop into Buonaparte’s head. But the other Ministers considered that to employ a magician was one thing, novelists were quite another and they would not stoop to it.” (p. 245)
The illustrations were fun, but then I love illustrations. And I LOVED the footnotes. I never found them distracting and they really added to the story, making me believe there really was a long history of English magic.
Book-murder was a late addition to English magical law. The wilful destruction of a book of magic merited the same punishment as the murder of a Christian. (Footnote p. 314)
A fun read. I’ve already ordered The Ladies of Grace Adieu so I’m looking forward to reading those stories sometime soon as well.
“Can a magician kill a man by magic?” Lord Wellington asked Strange. Strange frowned. He seemed to dislike the question. “I suppose a magician might,” he admitted, “but a gentleman never could.”
Interview with Susanna Clarke.

My Rating: 4/5
(Book #12 for 2007; Book #2 for the Chunkster Challenge; Book #2 for the TBR Challenge)


  1. I loved this book, although the illustration for the dead soldiers that were brought back to life really creeped me out.

  2. I meant to spend my midsemester break last week reading this, but I had way too many other library books to get through to borrow something this long. Having read this review I am determined to be a paragon of self-control until I've returned all my current checkouts. I must read this book!

  3. Kookiejar,
    Or how about the one of the mud 'hands' grabbing at the soldiers?

    It is long but I do think it's worth the read. Hope you get time to fit it in sometime soon. Looking forward to hearing what you think of it.

  4. I have this one on my TBR pile, too. It looks good! Glad to hear you liked it.

  5. Congrats to you, Nat, for completing book # 2 of the Chunkster Challenge, you go girl! I got to page 682 of my first book of the challenge and gave up (the book in question was some 900 pages long), yours was longer though, wasn't it?

    I have heard many good things about this Susanna Clarke novel and I'm glad you enjoyed it. I like books with footnotes too...I love the extra information they provide!

  6. Lotus,
    Wow! You got all the way to p. 682 and then gave up! I probably would've felt compelled to finish at that point. So which book was it?
    Actually JS & Mr Norrell was only 780 pages- Bloomsbury hardback. :P
    The footnotes here were really fun; she created a whole in-depth back history for the story.

  7. I've been discouraged from reading this book because it seemed so long and hefty, but the way you've described it is very inviting. I'll have to put it on my TBR list (which is getting longer, and longer, and longer...).

  8. Really must read it. Must. Must.

  9. I'm reading The Ladies of Grace Adieu and it is absolutely charming.

  10. Robin,
    The story does move along slowly, but I always enjoyed picking it up. Hope you enjoy it if/when you get to it.

    Yes you must! :P

    Good to hear you're enjoying the stories. I'm looking forward to hearing some of the footnote mentions in more detail.

  11. This book earned a place as one of my favourites when I read it shortly after publication. Not a fast read, but a very rich and rewarding one I found. I found myself quite sad when I finished it - always a sign of a good book!

    Portia Rosenburg's illustrations are great aren't they? Perfect for the character of the book.

    The footnotes were one of my favourite elements of the book - *love* footnotes!

    Great review, glad you liked it!

    (Found this blog via the Semicolon saturday review)

  12. Quixotic,
    I always feel compelled to read footnotes or endnotes but these ones were such fun to read and really made the book.
    Thanks for stopping by and letting me know about seeing it on Semicolon Saturday Review.

  13. I had to stuff this one down in 2 wks b/c it was on a waiting list at the library. What a marathon! But I enjoyed it. The drawings and footnotes were so funny.

  14. Chris,
    I think I was reading it for about 3-4 weeks. In 2 would've definitely been a challenge. Fun though.

  15. Your review makes the book sound so enticing. I'd heard of it but I didn't realize it was so large. I'll have to plan when I can work it into my reading time.

  16. Petunia,
    It definitely fits the title of 'chunkster' but it was a fun read. Hope you enjoy it when you get to it.

  17. I am glad you enjoyed this great book! My husband read it as well and counts it among his favorites. I hope to read the short story book one of these days also! Terrific review!

  18. I've had this one for awhile and got up to about halfway (when Strange is in Spain) and then got sidetracked and have yet to return to it. So many people have loved it that I know I have to read it.


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