Adriane Devries's Reviews > Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
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Jul 28, 11

bookshelves: book-clubbish-novels

I have finally finished Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, all 782 pages, a full week before our book club meets to “discuss” it. I use sarcastic quotes because, A., few of our members liked it enough to get past, oh, page 5; and B., the few who did finish it did not like it much, sadly, myself included. Maybe I’m wrong and at least one of us liked it--I’ll find out next week and let you know. You may remember how much I liked its beginning with its 1800’s London setting and Dickensian verbosity. I thought, This might just be the One. I kept reading it, waiting for plot and characters to kick into overdrive, hoping that after all the hype of my bookstore friend, that this was one book I would want to have those special edition collector’s copies of, like him. I plodded all the way to the very unspecial end, where I was forced to admit I didn’t like it after all. The end did not justify the means. While the book was cleverly written, with many titillating words and well-crafted sentences along the way, and was obviously well-researched for period language and culture, the characters and the plot ultimately lacked heart. I kept hoping that the main character would grow more endearing, but he only managed to grow slightly, but not interestingly, dark. And the only repetitive themes—those of women’s struggles with identity and significance, as well as the social injustices for minority races in that predominantly white, male culture-- though noble, seemed like add-ons that were thrown in to satisfy a politically correct publisher, rather than integrated pieces of the story. The main theme that did permeate the story, however, that of darkness mixed with light, could have been much better developed. There were never moments of real joy and brightness in the first 400 pages to counterbalance the moments of almost-but-not-quite despair and madness that characterized the last 300 pages; so there was hardly momentum or climax or anything resolved. To further sound like the arrogant bombast that I am, I will state that I think my review of this book is probably more interesting to read than the book itself (and nearly as long). And to think I was (almost) exclusively faithful to this one book for two whole months! Argh. The best part of finishing this book is the sick thrill of writing a scathing blog about it, as if I actually had a degree in Literature or had published something wonderful myself. That, plus the freedom that I now have to indulge all those promiscuous reading impulses that I’ve been restraining over the last two months. Did I mention the book took two months?
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