So, I finally did it! Sorry again to the October poll-voters… but hey, better late than never, right?
A few years ago, I was on my way to my mom’s house and didn’t have a book with me, so I stopped at the grocery store and bought a big chunky paperback book called Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. And I got to my mom’s house, started to read it, but after a few pages decided I wasn’t in the mood, and it has sat on my shelf ever since. And then in September I got the genius idea to put a 1000+ paged book in my October poll… I was meant to finish this late.
So, this is about two men in 1800’s England – two magicians, actually. Mr. Norrell is a quiet, reserved old man, but he is also the only practicing magician left in England. He eventually decides to come out of his giant house and bring the magic back to England. He offers his talents to England’s leaders and starts using magic to fight the French, and gains popularity and respect. Soon, another practical magician emerges – Jonathan Strange. He becomes Mr. Norrell’s pupil and they join forces in the fight against the French, but soon grow apart over their beliefs about the legendary Raven King.
So, that’s the basic gist of it – two magicians who work together but cannot agree on one critical magical argument, and it almost seriously messes stuff up. I like the idea that magic once existed in England, and then was forgotten for the most part, and then comes back. This novel is written with an Austen-like tone. I’ve also heard it compared to Dickens’ writing but I can’t really make that comparison because I’ve only read The Christmas Carol by him, whereas I’ve read five Austen novels. So I’m going to say that’s it’s written in a semi-witty Austen-esque style that I actually really liked. Here’s the thing though – Austen knew to stop at around 500 pages at least. While there were all sorts of interesting things happening and plots thickening, it was done in an extremely long way and I’m going to say that this book could have been a good 300-400 pages shorter and would have been much more enjoyable.
I also think that I’m SO LUCKY I picked up the audio version at the library so that I could have the option of listening or reading. I enjoyed the audio version much more, and I think that’s because just on the page the characters were a bit dull. I couldn’t really pin down the personalities of Strange or Norrell, but they were both much more interesting and alive in the audio version. And I don’t even really like audiobooks that much. Overall though, I think that my favorite character was “the man with the thistle-down hair”, who was kind of a baddie but as a character, he was so much bolder. I also liked Stephen Black, a black servant who Thistle-Down takes a liking too.
Soooo… I’m going to say that this was a good premise, poorly executed. I appreciated Clarke’s wit and style, but I think she definitely could have edited out a lot and could have worked at making Strange and Norrell more well-defined characters. The world she created was vivid and detailed, but the story itself wasn’t concise enough. If it wasn’t for the audiobook, I might have set this aside – I just wasn’t invested enough. I did have one favorite line in particular though, that was well-written and pretty: “She wore a gown the colour of storms, shadows, and rain and a necklace of broken promises and regrets.”
I do however want to read Susanna Clarke’s other book – The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories. It’s short stories about the same JS&Mr.N-world, but focuses more on women and magic. Also Jonathan Strange makes an appearance. I also already own this book, so I might read it this month and see if it changes my feelings on JS&Mr.N at all.
Sarah Says: 2.5 stars