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Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell Hardcover – August 26, 2004
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It's 1808 and that Corsican upstart Napoleon is battering the English army and navy. Enter Mr. Norrell, a fusty but ambitious scholar from the Yorkshire countryside and the first practical magician in hundreds of years. What better way to demonstrate his revival of British magic than to change the course of the Napoleonic wars? Susanna Clarke's ingenious first novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, has the cleverness and lightness of touch of the Harry Potter series, but is less a fairy tale of good versus evil than a fantastic comedy of manners, complete with elaborate false footnotes, occasional period spellings, and a dense, lively mythology teeming beneath the narrative. Mr. Norrell moves to London to establish his influence in government circles, devising such powerful illusions as an 11-day blockade of French ports by English ships fabricated from rainwater. But however skillful his magic, his vanity provides an Achilles heel, and the differing ambitions of his more glamorous apprentice, Jonathan Strange, threaten to topple all that Mr. Norrell has achieved. A sparkling debut from Susanna Clarke--and it's not all fairy dust. --Regina Marler
From Publishers Weekly
The drawing room social comedies of early 19th-century Britain are infused with the powerful forces of English folklore and fantasy in this extraordinary novel of two magicians who attempt to restore English magic in the age of Napoleon. In Clarke's world, gentlemen scholars pore over the magical history of England, which is dominated by the Raven King, a human who mastered magic from the lands of faerie. The study is purely theoretical until Mr. Norrell, a reclusive, mistrustful bookworm, reveals that he is capable of producing magic and becomes the toast of London society, while an impetuous young aristocrat named Jonathan Strange tumbles into the practice, too, and finds himself quickly mastering it. Though irritated by the reticent Norrell, Strange becomes the magician's first pupil, and the British government is soon using their skills. Mr. Strange serves under Wellington in the Napoleonic Wars (in a series of wonderful historical scenes), but afterward the younger magician finds himself unable to accept Norrell's restrictive views of magic's proper place and sets out to create a new age of magic by himself. Clarke manages to portray magic as both a believably complex and tedious labor, and an eerie world of signs and wonders where every object may have secret meaning. London politics and talking stones are portrayed with equal realism and seem indisputably part of the same England, as signs indicate that the Raven King may return. The chock-full, old-fashioned narrative (supplemented with deft footnotes to fill in the ignorant reader on incidents in magical history) may seem a bit stiff and mannered at first, but immersion in the mesmerizing story reveals its intimacy, humor and insight, and will enchant readers of fantasy and literary fiction alike.
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Top customer reviews
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.
I was surprised by how this book turned out, because it was oddly - a love story. I concede I cheated reading this book. I looked up spoilers, because I was so intrigued.
I love the writing. The writing was so smooth. It was descriptive, simple, and rarely was it critical. It was absolutely delightful. Not complicated at all.
Story is of two magicians. It's eighteenth century England, and magic once did exist. But after so many years, magic is nearly regulated to myth.
But there is the titular Mr. Norrell, who is stuffy, insecure, lonely, and socially inept. He is a magician. He is vulnerable, allowing morally bankrupt Christopher Drawlight to influence him, and Mr. Norrell is further weakened by Henry Lascalles, who basks in cruelty.
There is also a reason why the pompous Mr. Norrell is so smitten with Jonathon Strange, because he finds a colleague.
Strange was idle, but he was born with immense magical talent. He is in love with the pert Arabella Woodhope, whom he eventually marries. But magic falls into upon him, and magic becomes his passion.
Rather than remaining jealous. Mr. Norrell becomes smitten with Jonathon Strange.
But Jonathon Strange will not follow Mr. Norrell, and Mr. Norrell is afraid.
I adore the writing. I love the story. I just wish there was equal care given to the final subplots.
Two things: I wanted to know how Henry Lascelles felt at the end (his tongue betrayed him), and I love how Strange showed his devotion at the end.
Great book. I can't say enough.
One winter, however, something unexpected happens. It appears that, despite nobody having seen a practical magician for centuries, one can be found -- and in England, too! In the face of obvious skepticism, this magician is going to prove his claim to be able to do magic. He is also going to try and make sure that he is and will remain the only practicing magician in England. His name is Mr. Norrell. Given that the title lists his name second (oh, how vehemently he would object), you can guess that he isn't going to be the only one after all.
This is a quirky story, with characters at times almost Dickensian, and it is dark (tinged with bitterness, I would say), but not too much so. It tells of madness and fairy roads and of the (sometimes questionable) use a magician could be in a war with Napoleon. There is in it that time when "all hours become midnight" and there is also all the time spent in libraries, reading books on and of magic (a world of difference between the two).
I cannot say it has the strongest of plots, but its plot is not simple or plain or filled with platitudes. It has footnotes, though, and those make it particularly quaint. They reference dozens of books on magic (as well as periodicals and folktales) that do not in fact exist, and through these notes, one can learn quite a lot about the history of English magic and the personages who have been involved in it over the years.
Most recent customer reviews
I first encountered these two characters in the TV miniseries made from the book, and was so struck by the whole thing...Read more