Lacey Louwagie's Reviews > Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
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's review
Jul 18, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: historical-fiction, fantasy
Read from June 10 to July 15, 2011

I never could have finished this tome in just one month had I not had it riding around in my car on audio!

Admittedly, this book takes a while to get going, and about 20% of the book has passed you by before you even get to meet Jonathon Strange, one of the book's title characters. When the book began, I wondered, "Why does this book have to be so long?" When the book ended, I asked myself, "Did the book really have to be so long?" My answer, after I've distilled it all, is "probably not -- but it was enjoyable nonetheless."

Susanna Clarke does several things in her first novel that really impressed me. One is the way she takes on the "tone" of British writers of the 19th century, when this book is set, while simultaneously poking a bit of fun at them and keeping the prose entertaining to the modern reader. Another is how she does a bit of "revisionist history" here, steeping the story as she does in the time of Britain's war with Napoleon, and weaving the possibility of magic into historical events (for example, may contend that France lost the Battle of Waterloo because of the rainy weather that night; in this book, "weather magic" is intentionally responsible for that loss.) While the book tackles some serious subjects (magical enslavement, raising the dead, dark magic), it manages to do so without ever feeling particularly dark -- although there was one scene that made me gasp. The writing has an understated humor that I enjoyed, and well-drawn, compelling characters.

The title characters, Jonathon Strange and Mr Norrell, provide a fascinating character study and are the reason that this book can get away with being as long as it is. Although very different from one another, both of them feel equally real, as does the inevitable tension that arises between them. Although there were moments when the book got a bit slow, and although I would have liked a bigger "bang" for my buck at the book's end, what Susanna Clarke does right here far outweighs where she falls short. I'm glad to have "read" this book -- and not having to take 6 months to do it!

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46.0% "Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell -- what fantastic characters!"
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Harris Nice review! I also really enjoyed the droll tone that Clarke instilled in the story, even in the darker scenes. What scene made you gasp? I remember several quite harrowing instances (some of which happened in the footnotes, I think). Still one of my favorites, I agree that it probably didn't have to be so long, though I remember enjoying every page... hmmm, maybe its about time that I start up a re-reading.

Lacey Louwagie SPOILER ALERT >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

The part that made me gasp was when Isabella Strange died. She was such a vibrant character, and her death was delivered so abruptly. I was shocked and a little dismayed, but I also admired Susanna Clarke for killing off a "real" character and not a fringe character who was expendable, anyway, and I liked how her "death" figured into the last half of the book (although the ending, in that regard, was so bittersweet!!)

message 3: by Carrie (new)

Carrie Great review! I've had this book sitting around for awhile. I need to ignore the others and pick this one up and just tackle it.

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