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Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: A Novel Mass Market Paperback – August 1, 2006
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“What kind of magic can make an 800-page novel seem too short? Whatever it is, debut author Susanna Clarke is possessed by it.” ―USA Today on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“Ravishing...A chimera of a novel that combines the dark mythology of fantasy with the delicious social comedy of Jane Austen into a masterpiece of the genre that rivals Tolkien...What really sets Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell apart is its treatment of magic. Clarke's magic is a melancholy, macabre thing, confabulated out of snow and rain and mirrors and described with absolute realism ... Clarke has another rare faculty: she can depict evil ... [she] reaches down into fantasy's deep, dark, twisted roots, down into medieval history and the scary, Freudian fairy-tale stuff. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell reminds us that there's a reason fantasy endures: it's the language of our dreams. And our nightmares.” ―Time
“Clarke's imagination is prodigious, her pacing is masterly and she knows how to employ dry humor in the service of majesty.” ―The New York Times on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“Unquestionably the finest English novel of the fantastic written in the last seventy years. It's funny, moving, scary, otherworldly, practical and magical, a journey through light and shadow--a delight to read, both for the elegant and precise use of words, which Ms. Clarke deploys as wisely and dangerously as Wellington once deployed his troops, and for the vast sweep of the story, as tangled and twisting as old London streets or dark English woods. Closing Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrel after 800 pages, my only regret was that it wasn't twice the length.... From beginning to end, a perfect pleasure.” ―Neil Gaiman, author of Anansi Boys, American Gods, and the Sandman series
“Immense, intelligent, inventive...Clarke is a restrained and witty writer with an arch and eminently readable style.” ―Entertainment Weekly on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“Over the course of nearly 800 pages Clarke channels the world of Jane Austen, the Gothic tale, the Silver-Fork Society novel, military adventure à la Bernard Sharpe or Patrick O'Brian, romantic Byronism and Walter Scott's passion for the heroic Northern past. She orchestrates all these fictive elements consummately well...Many books are to be read, some are to be studied, and a few are meant to be lived in for weeks. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is of this last kind.” ―The Washington Post on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“Combining folklore and fantasy with horror-story imagination, [Clarke] creates a Napoleonic-era England alive with the promise--and danger--of uncontrollable forces...Clarke's sober style keeps the fantasy grounded, and meticulous historical research brings the magical episodes to terrifying life.” ―People (Critic's choice, four stars) on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“The most sparkling literary debut of the year.” ―Salon on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“Mesmerizing.” ―Harper's Bazaar on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“This 800-page work of fantasy--think Harry Potter sprinkled with the dust of Tolkien and Alasdair Gray--posits an extraordinary alternative history of England where magic, fairies, spirits and enchantments were once part of everyday life...This incredible work of the imagination, which took Clarke more than 10 years to write, ends all too soon.” ―New York Post (four stars) on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“Here is a writer who remembers that true fairy tales carry a sting and the creatures themselves were never properly domesticated to the nursery. Her uncanny book is an object lesson in the pleasures--and risks--of enchantment.” ―Village Voice on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“Gorgeous...A terrific, phenomenally ambitious book.” ―The Onion on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“An instant classic, one of the finest fantasies ever written.” ―Kirkus Reviews (starred review) on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“Extraordinary...Will enchant readers of fantasy and of literary fiction alike.” ―Publishers Weekly (starred review) on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“A smashing success...History and fantasy form a beautiful partnership in this detailed, authentic, and heartfelt novel.” ―Booklist (starred review) on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“Wonderful. At almost 800 pages, it is an immense, densely plotted story, peopled with a a vast cast of extremely well-drawn characters, filled with unexpected events, ancient prophesies,varied and exotic settings, and all manner of human and inhuman conflict, and it is built one splendid scene upon the next.” ―Toronto Globe and Mail on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell comes across as equal parts Jane Austen and Charles Dickens flavored with Rowling and Tolkien. It's inarguably one of the year's best and most original works.” ―National Post (Canada)
“Combines the wit of Jane Austen with the subterranean spookiness of the works of Arthur Conan Doyle.” ―Seattle Times on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“An enthralling, unique read.” ―Baltimore Sun
“Witty dialogue, cunning observations, and intriguing footnotes...[A] sweeping adventure full of telling details, mixing history and fantasy to create worlds of deep imagination that seem as real as our own.” ―San Francisco Chronicle on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“While Jonathan Strange is every bit as whimsical and playful as the Harry Potter books, it is also grave and upsetting, the very opposite of comforting children's entertainment...Clarke has delivered a book of universal truths and unexpectedly heartbreaking acuity.” ―Fort Worth Star-Telegram
“Utterly enchanting. [Clarke's] union of historical fiction and fantasy is fresh, it is surprising, and it will appeal to those who want nothing more than to be carried away to a world crafted by a superb storyteller.” ―Denver Post on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“Extraordinary...If Harry Potter is the kind of book that makes you want to be a kid again, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is the kind of novel that will remind you that being an adult should be a whole lot more fun.” ―Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“I found it absolutely compelling. The narrative drive is irresistible and I could not stop reading until I had finished it. The narrator's tone is beautifully judged. It's full of wonderfully deadpan humour and its reticence leaves the reader to make up his or her mind about the characters. I loved all the invented scholarship and was fascinated by the mixture of historical realism and utterly fantastic events. I almost began to believe that there really was a tradition of 'English magic' that I had not heard about. The author captures the period and its literary conventions with complete conviction. And a large part of the fun is seeing how an early nineteenth century novel copes with the impact of magic. It's an astonishing achievement. I can't think of anything that is remotely like it.” ―Charles Palliser, author of The Quincunx, on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
From the Back Cover
BOOK SENSE BOOK OF THE YEAR
A PEOPLE MAGAZINE "TOP TEN" BOOK
WINNER OF THE HUGO AWARD
WINNER OF THE WORLD FANTASY AWARD
"Ravishing…Combines the dark mythology of fantasy with the delicious social comedy of Jane Austen into a masterpiece of the genre that rivals Tolkien."―Time
At the dawn of the nineteenth century, two very different magicians emerge to change England's history. In the year 1806, with the Napoleonic Wars raging on land and sea, most people believe magic to be long dead in England―until the reclusive Mr Norrell reveals his powers, and becomes a celebrity overnight.
Soon, another practicing magician comes forth: the young, handsome, and daring Jonathan Strange. He becomes Norrell's student, and they join forces in the war against France. But Strange is increasingly drawn to the wildest, most perilous forms of magic, straining his partnership with Norrell, and putting at risk everything else he holds dear.
"What kind of magic can make an 800-page novel seem too short? Whatever it is, debut author Susanna Clarke is possessed by it."―USA Today
"From beginning to end, a perfect pleasure."―Neil Gaiman
Top customer reviews
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That is a very rough description of a 1000 page book. Truthfully, there’s a whole lot more going on but to say too much would be leading me into giving away spoilers.
As already mentioned, this is a very long book. In fact, it’s divided into three books, each named after the important magicians in the story (Strange, Norrell, and the long ago Raven King). A warning here – Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is slowly paced and slow burning. The action and pace don’t pick up until the climax in the last hundred pages or so.
So why, might you ask, would I read a book with 900 pages of build up? Because that build up is so enjoyable. Susanna Clarke is an excellent writer (she’s using the style of classic nineteenth century authors), and her writing is not without humor. I was not at all expecting it, but often I would laugh out load upon reading a line. Take this quote for instance:
“Houses, like people, are apt to become rather eccentric if left too much on their own; this house was the architectural equivalent of an old gentleman in a worn dressing-gown and torn slippers, who got up and went to bed at odd times of day, and who kept up a continual conversation with friends no one else could see.”
I love the footnotes as well. Sometimes they’re just explaining a reference to a magical text, but often they are stories within a story, like the fairy tale about the Master of Nottingham’s daughter and her quest to retrieve the magic ring. Other times she uses footnotes (as well as in text commentary) to skewer the prejudices of the age. There’s a certain irony in that Strange and Norrell are acceptable magicians because they are gentlemen, even though others such as Childermass would probably make just as good or better magicians.
If you pick this one up, you’ve got to have at least some interest in history or a liking of classic English writing like Jane Austin. If you’re looking for the usual action adventure, medieval world type fantasy, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is not for you. If you’re looking for something different, an original fantasy book, than this is the book for you.
The book is divided into three main sections - Mr Norrell, Jonathan Strange and John Uskglass. In this alternate England, magic had been lost to time and such and thus the only magicians were scholarly ones who would meet from time to time to discuss theoretical magic. The loss of magic in England had something to do with the departure of John Uskglass, also known as the Raven King who once ruled England and Faerie.
All that changes when one of the magical societies learns of the existence of Mr. Norrell, who is rumored to be able to perform practical magic. The group eventually verifies this for himself but in time Norrell calls for the magical societies to be disbanded and that only practical magicians (namely himself) can perform magic. And as Norrell is asked to perform various magical feats from time to time and he eventually takes on an apprentice in the form of Jonathan Strange. And the other twist involves a certain Gentleman that Norrell manages to summon that may mean pretty bad things in the long run.
The book is approached like one of the scholarly texts of magic that Norrell has hoarded in his collection of magical books. It has a crazy number of footnotes that refer to a bunch of other fictional books of magical history and various other anecdotes from the fictional historical England that was once defined by magic. At times it's all interesting and clever. At other times it feels like a lot of reading additional material that might be helpful but also doesn't always impact the overall story. This is where a lot of my difficulty derived from - the need to go back and forth between footnotes and the story itself in order to get the full experience of this book.
I see now that the TV mini-series did an amazing job of bringing this story to life in a manner that is more easily approached by readers. Things were a bit of a struggle across the first two volumes of the book but I'll concede things did pick up a bit in the last volume. But hey, that's where the big climax was and a fair amount of interesting magic, so it's only natural.
The book's tone sort of toggles between the scholarly part of things and the fantasy escapism we look for in such books. And it's not like there's a heck of a lot of magic in the book. It's just that you have the heavy scholarly bits balanced against the not so heavy bits that aren't necessarily lighter. It's a great story and some compelling writing but it's also a lot of work to get through.
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is a very detailed depiction of an England with a grand legacy of magic. It's also a daring adventure in its own right against an unseen foe and a prophecy that is fated to be fulfilled.