Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Book review - Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

by Susanna Clarke


This book has all of the trappings that make me want to love it. It's got magic. It's got fairies. It's got great language and conversation - the sort that makes me zoom and fly through the pages like The Fairy King*'s own crows. I read another review which called it "Hogwarts for Grownups" (NY Times).

This book definitely had fun - an absolutely fun up and down ride. The pages were stuffed with activity, heavy descriptions of the landscape were balanced against light conversations where people were saying just what I hoped they would say just when I hoped they would say them. I was the fly on the wall during what was apparently the greatest magical upheaval that England had ever known; and it was a jolly good time.


What I didn't like, I suppose, was that I felt the book was just a hair too long. I'm one of those people who reads the Lord of the Rings Trilogy or the Harry Potter seven-gy for fun; so when I say 'too long' I really mean 'a bit dull at times'. She uses footnotes** extensively, and I felt they made the story drag.

Also, I had a few issues with the characters. Aside from the title characters, most of the other people were more like false actors in someone else's play. It seemed like they were such amazing, interesting, fun people; but they didn't breathe; they didn't live. I didn't close the book and feel like I knew them.

I will say again that I loved the fantastical plot and most of the time I didn't want to put it down, just that sometimes I just wanted her to 'hurry up' and get to the next good part. I truly wanted to like the characters more, and I didn't.

Overall, I give the book a 3 and a half out of 5. A good book with some great fun. I may read it again - and I may like it better the second time around. 

*The Fairy King is a character in the book.
**What do you mean 'extensively'? I mean that in every chapter, there were pages dedicated to short footnotes and longer drawn out sub-stories that took me away from the main story again and again.


Anonymous said...

I liked the cleverness of the plot, the way what seem at times to be quite trivial or even random events, turn out in hindsight to be entirely necessary links in a single chain. For example: if Lady Pole doesn't shoot Mr Norrell she will not be packed off to Yorkshire. In that case she would not be near Childermass when he realises whose finger it is he has - and so then he will not be empowered to rescue her, thus unwittingly provoking the Gentleman to kill her, and so rousing Stephen to action at last and...and so it goes. (Don't get me started on how it was Mr Norrell's continual war against magical education which led to Mr Segundus running an asylum in Yorkshire in the first place...)

I like the conceit that while the author is doing what authors do - sequencing events, moving characters about - her principal character the Raven King is doing exactly the same.

Janet said...

Thanks Anonymous! Those clever plot aspects were interesting and definitely kept me thinking 'what is she going to tie in next?'