Ken-ichi's Reviews > Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
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's review
Feb 19, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: escape, fantasy
Read in January, 2005

From deep down in the archives, all the way back in 2005...

Perhaps you've heard of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell , a work of exceedingly British fantasy by Susanna Clarke that came out last year. Perhaps you've heard it compared to Harry Potter, Dickens, and Jane Austen, usually in the same sentence, and such comparisons are dead on. Perhaps you've read some reviews (esp. on Amazon) that describe it as long-winded and boring, and these might be true from a certain, wrong point of view. It is rather long, and has all these ridiculous footnotes, and features many prim British socialites who say things like

'Can a magician kill a man by magic?' Lord Wellington asked Strange. Strange frowned. He seemed to dislike the question. 'I suppose a magician might,' he admitted, 'but a gentleman never could.'

which might turn off some. You might even think that I'm one of those people, but there you'd be wrong. I freaking loved this book. I haven't enjoyed a book like this for some time. All the little Britishisms, and subtlety, imperfection, and relative unimportance of so much of the magic is utterly appealing to me. One of my favorite parts about the magic in Lord of the Rings was that no one ever really did any. Gandalf was more wise than powerful, and the rare times he did something supernatural were all the more impressive for it (one of my favorite scenes in the movies is when he rides out and fends off the Nazgul with a flash of light in Return of the King). That's sort of what magic is like in JS & Mr N. No one even does any magic for the first 100 pages or so, even though they can't stop talking about and debating it.

Now that I'm trying to describe it, I'm running into the same problem I usually do with genre fiction, only in reverse. Normally, the books I read sound absurdly childish and ridiculous when I try to describe them (stranded aliens that look like scooters, crabs, and centaurs living in harmony in a distant galaxy; big thorny terrifying metallic killer things from the future; etc), but this one actually sounds terribly boring. I don't know. I found the story and the characters very welcoming. I think the quip from the Washington Post on the back cover sums it up for me:

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.

Certainly worth your time if you're at all into living in books for a while. My only quibles are the usually silly charcoal illustrations, and the godawful picture of the author on the dust jacket (she really looks a little more like this). That thing really bugged me every time I glanced at it.
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06/06 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Tara i am pleased to read your review--although i've wanted to read this for a long time, i've recently heard only discouraging comments from my friends--but your review has re-inspired me. i'm living in it.

Ken-ichi Heh, I saw that you were in the middle of it and thought, "I've read that..." so I dug this out of my old blog.

Tara i'm glad you did. i am enjoying it so far but i keep thinking "when am i going to stop liking this?" and that's just no fun, and bound to be self-fulfilling.

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