Amanda's Reviews > Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
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Feb 27, 15

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Read in April, 2008

Where to begin on Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (Susanna Clarke)? I didn’t really want to read it. All the other fantasy fans I know said it was wonderful. But it’s also giant. And it’s the kind of book that they sell in airport bookstores. You know what I mean. When you’re sitting in the airport for the 62nd consecutive hour of delay and you’ve already run through your music, movies, and any other entertainments you might have, you go to the airport bookstore and all the titles look familiar because you’ve been hearing about them on your TV or computer or radio until they’ve drilled it into your head that you HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK. Even if it’s not that great.

Well, I’m sorry to say that is how I had classified Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell in my head. As an airport book. Boy was I wrong.

As fantasy goes, I’m a pretty tame reader of it. I like Lord of the Rings. And Harry Potter. And Chronicles of Narnia. I have ventured outside of these three seminal series a little bit, but not much. Apparently, my fantasy tastes are relatively mainstream. I guess that’s mostly because I’m terribly afraid of getting really deeply into fantasy and then being one of those people who decorates their house with purple dragons, goes to every single Renaissance fair within 500 miles and has a Lord-of-the-Rings themed wedding.

Perhaps that’s why I love Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Because it is mainstream fantasy. It is presented as a historical novel first, with a tinge of fantasy second. It’s not the type of book that’s going to lead to any of the behaviors enumerated above. But it is positively delightful.

Susanna Clarke sets her magical epic in Napoleonic times. The death of English magic is nigh, when not just one, but two new magicians emerge, helping Britain navigate its way out of the Napoleonic wars. A more magic-related plot emerges near the end, moving away from the historical novel tone, a little closer to fantasy.

The writing style, the tone, the puns, the tiny little jokes, the characterization. All of it is so well done. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is such a pleasure to read, thoroughly entertaining from start to finish. This is fantasy that does not collapse in on itself. It does not become so involved in its separate world that it forgets that its characters are human. It’s a charming, lovely, fast read. Even if it is a dreadfully long airport book.
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