Jasmine's Reviews > Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: A Novel

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
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Aug 13, 10

bookshelves: british
Read from August 07 to 13, 2010

Editted, I actually ran out of time for this review because I ran into todd at the library and talked to him instead of writing it:
So I actually took notes about what should be in this review, not to assume that means that I won't forget anything, I definitely will but hopefully I will forget less than I otherwise would and therefore will not have to rewrite the review too many times to fix its ultimate sadness at being an incomplete work.

I asked several people if I should read this book after it was recommended to me from all but one I got the same response: "I started it but I didn't finish" sometimes this was preceded with "it's good" in one case it even took questioning to find out that they hadn't actually bothered to finish it (I mean I get that, I think magic mountain is good but I don't need to read the second half to know that) in another case there was a long story about getting a hardcover of the correct color then it being to large to actually carry around and other people buying a second paperback that they would eventually borrow (this idea seems weird to me, but I have a natural affection for books that are awkward to read on the subway, yes sade I am looking at you). The one case where I got a different response or I suppose the second case if you count the person who recommended it to me was Karen who said simply "I think you would like it", I trust statements like this from greg and karen they tend for the most part to be right although periodically greg overestimates my tolerance of stupidity. Karen liking this book isn't shocking since she enjoys long books. Now she asked me for a good(not in the sense of lie and say the book is good but in the sense of thorough at least I think that is what she meant) review because she has been asked for one and doesn't remember the book that well.

Now to leave my circle of friends and move to the world at large we find this book on the shelves:

abandoned--42 people
unfinished--39 people
never-finished--21 people
didn-t-finish--20 people
did-not-finish--19 people
couldn-t-finish--18 people
could-not-finish--10 people
didnt-finish--9 people

and

favorites--123 people
all-time-favorites--29 people
to-re-read--9 people
all-time-favourites--8 people
favorite--8 people

This is only the first page, while my wild love of statistics kind of makes me want to copy and paste into excel and play around with all 26 pages I have to at least pretend I have better things to do than that. However numbers wise that adds up to 178 abandonings (seriously this is a depressing name for a shelf) and 177 favorites. I mean could it get more perfect than this... perhaps I should make a favorites shelf and make it even, but I digress. What is my point other than the fact that more people who spell in american enjoy this book? (Which is a clearly important and very valid point in and of itself.) This is not a book for everyone. I know that and I am certainly not trying to tell everyone that they will like this book. This book is as an object a very peculiar thing I am trying to say Thank fully for you I have a solution read the first 30 pages if you like them you will like the book, but if you are waiting for the action to start... well it never will so give it up.

This is not a plot driven book. There in fact isn't much of a plot, there is a lot of character and I think that the book is extremely character driven. I mean I would say the type of person strange is has much more to do with what happens when norrell does something than what is happening in the book. In fact the book has a bit of an anti plot, the book pretends something exciting is going to happen all the characters prepare for it then nothing does, it is a bit unsettling to be honest. The plot also sort of runs out and restarts but unlike Frei the book doesn't restart so I didn't have a problem with it.

This book really isn't about anything that the book is about. In fact in one sentence I could not tell you what the book is about. well that isn't true it is about magicians being magicians. It is about life. It is about living in a time where the magic of life has gone missing and you would do ANYTHING to get it back. But you are too scared or perhaps too arrogant to figure out what that anything is. What are you afraid of? Not being the best, doing something wrong, being found out? perhaps all of these. Arrogance. The arrogance of youth perhaps, of folly of a man who does not need direction.

A common complaint about this book from my friends and goodreads in general is a lack of likable characters. First, all of you can fuck off there is nothing more likable that an ass hole recluse who refuses to talk to people and then puts forgetting spells on the people he does talk to. Not to mention a man who can do magic but can't explain it or figure out how the fuck to ever undo the magic that he has already done. Come on when you suddenly stumble upon a spell you thought ended six hours ago, how can you hate the person who cast it. You can't that is the answer. But say that for some reason you really don't like these gentleman, for whatever reason you truly hate gilbert norrell for being an evil old man, and you hate strange for being stupid or perhaps you hate him for some all together better reason like his actions toward his wife. well then in addition to being blind you are also quite wrong. These are not the only two characters in the book. Sir walter pole, lady pole, arabella, fiona(whose name I may have wrong), Dr. Graysteel(again may be wrong), the crazy old lady, mr segunus(this is definitely misspelled), etc etc. The magicians are not bad people but they are as several people comment including themselves foremost magicians, which means they are foremost scholars and I don't know if you have met such people but scholars are truly quite unpleasant people if you disturb them during the various cataloging rituals they have. I know I am one of these people.

However, Arabella and Lady pole are both truly interesting characters. Engaging, strong willed but completely faithful to their husbands and expect nothing from them. Perhaps this is unfeminist perhaps there is something wrong with this, but I think not, I think there is something nice about the air they have which is not "I will be trod upon" but something more akin to "I will be and if you desire to exist near me that will be so". I quite like it and find it very feminist myself.

Dr. Greysteel and Fiona both give up portions of their own happiness to help friends. I will say no more to avoid spoilers but they are truly moral people. The mad old cat lady, I mean come on have a heart. Sir walter pole in addition to his good intentions of helping everyone in england with everything that has ever occurred is a truly devoted husband if a little stupid not unlike the Honeywell character who is also likable. Segunus is a scholar, and allows the book to mock itself, pointing out its own sarcasm multiple times as well as pleasantly allowing the reader to want to push him to become more than he currently is.

Ah but all of these character pale to the glory of CHILDERMASS this is my favorite character that I have come upon up to this point. Better than Rorschach, better than the narrator of the gone away world, even better than the stranger. He is the epitome of the chaotic good in a truly postmodern subjective world. He does not exist as the moral compass so much as the moral balance. No matter who is to be winning childermass is to constantly exist on the otherside and to fight the winner. He does not follow rules imposed against him and he does not so much fight as live above these rules believing it is not only his duty to betray them, but that no one expects him to do otherwise. Childermass reads as a noble king even living the novel as a humble servant. He is clearly everything that you could possibly want in a character even if he is not the raven king. (this is never remotely implied in the book so I am not spoiling anything I just really really wanted him to be).

the point of all this character extrapolation, if you can't find someone to like you aren't looking hard enough. Even the man with the thistle down hair has some lovely redeeming qualities.

Now lets switch the order and go back to what I cut out from earlier about plot in this book. This book takes place from 1806 to 1817 lets be honest if it had a single plot that took that long to unravel I would have been terribly bored in 1810. However instead there are many threads. Many of which like strange's magic are simply walked away from and left dangling around waiting perhaps for the Raven King to come back and restore them. But this does not mean there is nothing in the book the book has a heavy philosophical lean (don't tell karen she may dock it stars) it discusses the balancing of powers there can be one or there can be three but if here are two they will always be fighting for dominance. There are ideas about what is moral "Can a magician kill a man with magic" "a magician could but a gentleman never would". There are ideas about truth, not to mention the shifting grounds for norrell around truth for himself, and the truth of the public, and I mean think lippman the man's got a point. On the other hand while there is at least one plot running through the book, the enchantments it is never a terribly important plot. The book is more like a book of life led by those who are living it. It is almost what the novel of eterna attempts to be a novel where characters are created and then are allowed to shape their own destiny. Why what would mr strange do now, shall we not simply ask him? Even the author feels to actually be a charcter. I do not believe that clarke wrote this book, the book was written by a victorian women clearly of strange's own time, perhaps fiona who quotes him so well and fell through a time warp and landed in he hands of miss clarke and she simply published it and gained the rewards.

There is in this book the lovely sense of humor you find in all british writings whether a reference to page six in a prison scene of sandman or douglas adams all important towel. The type of jokes that make fun of the characters, make fun of the novel, and mostly make fun of the reader. On one end of the spectrum lie authors like Adams and pratchett who write books entirely in this sense of irony, "look at this idiot how can he not know a single spell". Then there are authors like Gaiman who seem o write in all seriousness and elitism with their high references to shakespeare and these jokes seem more as freudian slips. Clarke sits somewhere between these authors on this trajectory, sometimes not letting the joke past the characters, sometimes not letting it past the novel, and sometimes letting it envelop the reader. But the book is always lighthearted and always pleasant.

Returning now to the idea of plot the truly interesting thing in this book is not so much the lack of plot (as I said the book reads slowly and there is no getting into it so much as you are already there, if you desire not to be leave) as the constant teasing that perhaps soon the author will bother to include a plot, or a climax or at least a tiny bit of action (There are 3 or four sentences involving blood and raven attacks that I suppose do count) and the constant faltering. Life as a general rule is not interesting, Clarke knows that and clearly the book knows that. we imagine life to be exciting that some grand fight will find us and it never does, these characters do the same.

However, Clarke has a positive in this. Some books which build up and fall back tend to restart each time (read as frei's the stranger) she does not. The book continues to assume you know everything you already knew, although periodically a footnote comes back in the actual text and references itself, and the book simply starts a new line of inquiry. I enjoy this. I don't like being treated like I'm stupid, or having an author disrespect the fact that after reading 400 pages I don't need to have reexplained why a character lives where they do.


On this note another complaint I heard commonly about this book is that none of the characters are likable. I disagree. Sir walter, childermass, arabella, mrs pole, fiona, all likable, strange is commonly likable or understandable I mean the two are sometimes tough to distinguish. The women are weirdly dismissive of men but I think it makes them interesting.

I do have to say I particularly love childremass he is a solid chaotic good character if I ever saw one, the true intellectual. ah, I wish more books had characters like him.


I apologized this is rushed but I must go have vegan chicken nuddets perhaps I will make it clear later perhaps I will not

ah this feels much like a happier review to me, if it is not clear I think this book is fantastic and will recommend it constantly "oh you like long books you say? "

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Reading Progress

08/07/2010 page 30
3.0% "I am reading this slowly, 30 pages on the subway but it is a pleasant kind of slowness." 1 comment
08/09/2010 page 113
11.0% "I like Mr. Norrell he is an antisocial jackass."
08/09/2010 page 224
22.0% "you complain of magicians yet I am only able to conjure a banker."
08/10/2010 page 402
40.0% "and today we nap and read."
08/11/2010 page 535
53.0% "hello to the raven king."
08/12/2010 page 780
92.0% "and shall we have ourselves a good old magician fight?" 2 comments

Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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karen i am voting for "nuddets"


message 2: by Dana (new)

Dana wow, sorry my story was so long-winded! lol


message 3: by Courtney (new) - added it

Courtney you sound british in this review Jasmine. :P


Jasmine I felt very bad that this review was not very good when I ran away to eat nuddets.

I forgot to say that my favorite part of this book was that it just feels like a book about life and not a book about any moment in particular.

why do I sound british?


Jasmine it was good story dana.


mark monday childermass is chaotic good....awesome!
i love reading reviews of this wonderful novel. well, good reviews that is.


Rhiannon Childermass Fan Club!!!


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