Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

alberta's book reviews

I had wanted to read this book from reviews I had read about it. Glowing for the most part, and apparently with an intriguing plot. An alternate version of the early 1800s in Britain and Europe. With the same events but just with differing living and outcomes. A trifle taken aback by the size, over a thousand pages, but I am no stranger to the out-sized book and settled down to read – not in one sitting, I confess,aging joints disallow this now.

I enjoyed the book, with a very few reservations. I thoughly enjoyed the premise that these Islands were ruled my magic, or had been, it was by the period of the book of reduced to an academic subject, but the faerie kings and nastiness was still there to create their own brand of mischief. Magic and magicians had been somewhat sidelined with all the modernity of the Regency period, during the Napoleonic Wars.

Another facet of the book I really enjoyed were the footnotes, relating fairy tales as truth, referencing non-existent books to direct the reader further or to back up evidence presented, also essays and texts. Creating even more complex layers of richness. Although I would imagine these would irritate some.

My favourite spell was the one involving a flotilla of ships created from rain.

In  its way this was an anti faerie tale, a warning against faerie land. Begin to evoke these powerful inhabitants from across the misty borders of the land and great troubles will clash with modernity.

This is a story of a clash of personalities and beliefs between an older magician and a younger one. Rivalry, enmity and treachery carried out on a national scale. A conceit of the novel is that it is written in the style of the time, one can find elements of all the great authors writing then. It explains the length, the slow pace and the stilted behaviors (in comparison to today’s offerings) of the characters. Elegant conversations and social mores are the order of the pages. It is a book which needs a different mindset to modern rush.

There is everything one could wish for here, talking statues and enchanted ballrooms, faerie kings and spells there are traces of Peake and Le Guinn as well as the older,Austen, Dickens and Thackeray.

I think some readers will dislike the seeming emotionlessness of the characters, when not indulging in dastardly magic to prove who is the greatest magician, that is. The lack of hysteria when a young girl dies, is resurrected, married, then descends into madness, it is all so matter of fact. The style is maintained well mostly, but flags a little in place.

Overall though I found it a very satisfying book and envy Susanna Clarke her ability to create and maintain such a cast of characters and events.

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