Apatt's Reviews > Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
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Jun 29, 15

bookshelves: top-20, fantasy-top20
Read from January 13 to 24, 2012

Neil Gaiman said that this book is "hard to overpraise", I will make an attempt thus:

While I was reading the second half of this book it occurred to me that I don't actually need to read any other novel ever again, I could just read this one book over and over again for the rest of my days and when the Grim Reaper calls I shall have this book clutched possessively in my stiff, unyielding fingers.

Momentary insanity of course, but it is indicative of the devotion I feel toward this book. With in the first page or two I was already feeling very friendly toward this book because of the prose. Ms. Clarke seems to be channelling Jane Austen by way of Oscar Wilde, P.G. Wodehouse, Hans Christian Andersen, with some dark sprinkles of Poe and Lovecraft. I grew increasingly fond of the book page by page until I was ready to put it on a pedestal and worship it by the time I reached in end.

The basic outline of the story is that it concerns the titular Jonathan and Mr. Norrell. Mr Norway brings magic back to England, takes on Mr. strange as his pupil, the two gentlemen later become rivals. Their interrelationship is the backbone of this long book that features wonderful characters, humour, sadness, heroism, redemption and magic, not to mention non-stop dancing and cameos by Napoleon Bonaparte Lord Byron and crazy King George III.

Normally when I read a long book of more than 700 pages in length I like to pause at about half way through, pick up a shorter book to read to the finish and go back to the long book. For me it helps to relieve the impatience from spending so much time with just one book. However, with this book* it is impossible, I could not extricate myself from it. I am a slowish reader and I spent about two weeks living and breathing this book and now that I have finish it I feel a little disoriented. Also, I tend to feel more comfortable reading SF than fantasy, the problem I personally have with a lot of fantasy is suspension of disbelief when magic manifests in some way. The pacing of this book is so perfect and the magic so skillfully and gradually woven into the story that I no problem throwing disbelief out the window and just settle down and immerse into this magical version of England.

Overpraise this book? Impossible!

Footnote
A footnote about the footnotes. I am tempted to knock off one star for the over abundance of footnotes, I am personally not keen on them as they interrupt the flow of the story for me. However, it would be ill-bred of me to use my own preferences as the standard for quality assessment. The fact is that lots of people like them and I think that justify their existence; not to mention that they are as beautifully written as the main body of the book. It is also worth mentioning that you can skip them entirely and still follow the story without missing a beat. I skimmed them and I intend to go back to read them all. Besides, this book deserves at least a billion stars rating and Goodreads can only cope with five, so if I did knock off one star nobody would notice.

Footnote 2
* I read the Kindle edition, the footnotes are hypertext links that jump to the back of the book (after the novel is ended), I had to ensure that I bookmark the page before I click on any footnote otherwise it would have been difficult to find my way back.

Footnote 3
Have a look at Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell fan arts at Deviant Art. A wiki devoted to this book is also available for in-depth info.
_______________________________
Update June 2015:
- Neil Gaiman: Why I love Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

- Susanna Clarke on the TV Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell: ‘My own characters were walking about!’

- I love the BBC adaptation. The AV Club's reviews here.

- According to Wikipedia Susanna Clarke is working on another book set in the Strange & Norrell universe (so the word sequel may be inappropriate). Don't hold your breath waiting for it though because it took her ten years to write Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by the time she publishes this second novel there may be flying cars and hoverboards on the street.
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Quotes Apatt Liked

Susanna Clarke
“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 would.”
Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Susanna Clarke
“Time and I have quarrelled. All hours are midnight now. I had a clock and a watch, but I destroyed them both. I could not bear the way they mocked me.”
Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell


Reading Progress

01/15/2012 page 252
25.0% "Can I skip the footnotes?" 6 comments
01/23/2012 page 755
75.0% "@_@ mesmerized!"
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Comments (showing 1-32 of 32) (32 new)

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apple This is totally epic epic of epic proportions! xD
(..and epic fail comment lol)


message 2: by Apatt (last edited Jan 14, 2012 09:03AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Apatt So it's like Scott Pilgrim vs The World?

Do I need to read those footnotes in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell? They interrupt the flow of the story!


apple You've got to read the footnotes! >o< The fun's in the footnotes <3 a bit of a hassle if you're reading on Kindle though..


Apatt apple wrote: "This is totally epic epic of epic proportions! xD
(..and epic fail comment lol)"


My review can not do it justice but I tried...


message 5: by Kedar (new) - added it

Kedar Question: Are those footnotes anything like the ones wrote for Bartimaeus in The Amulet of Samarkand?


Apatt Kedar wrote: "Question: Are those footnotes anything like the ones wrote for Bartimaeus in The Amulet of Samarkand?"

I dunno anything about The Amulet of Samarkand unfortunately. Sorry for my ignorance :) I'll google the book.


message 7: by Teena (new)

Teena R. Your review made me want to re-read it badly and neglect the minted TBR pile by my side.

However, we parted way at the footnotes. They are what drew me in the first place. I blame my obsession on Terry Pratchett, my Golden God and Master of Hilarious Footnotes.


Apatt Teena wrote: "Your review made me want to re-read it badly and neglect the minted TBR pile by my side.

However, we parted way at the footnotes. They are what drew me in the first place. I blame my obsession o..."


I'm, glad you like the review krub, footnotes are just distracting for me, I haven't even read all of the Jonathan Strange footnotes yet, but I'm keeping the book in my Kindle for when I feel like perusing them.


Dave The footnotes make the book what it is. But if you are reading it on a Kindle I'd say that would drive anyone mad. I love printed books.


Apatt I love printed books too, but e-books are more practical for my poor aging eyesight.


message 11: by Erika (new)

Erika Woo, that good?


message 12: by Erika (new)

Erika And what's it with authors and footnotes? Why many books I've been seeing lately have them? Was it a experimental trend?


Apatt Erika wrote: "And what's it with authors and footnotes? Why many books I've been seeing lately have them? Was it a experimental trend?"

I haven't read novels with footnotes lately so I don't know if it's a thing these days. More people seem to like Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell's footnotes than not though. Any way, they are not so practical for e-books...

As for "that good?" it's a solid Yes from me! :)


Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship They turned the footnotes into endnotes? That's awful! Who wants to read endnotes?


Apatt Emma wrote: "They turned the footnotes into endnotes? That's awful! Who wants to read endnotes?"

Yes, I think they should provide a link on each footnote for the reader to click back from the footnote to the part of the main book they originally clicked from.


message 16: by Lyn (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lyn whoa, but 1000 pages? must be really good


message 17: by Apatt (last edited Dec 09, 2014 07:11PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Apatt Lyn wrote: "whoa, but 1000 pages? must be really good"

If you exclude the footnotes it's may be 800 pages (though perhaps you should read them afterward).


message 18: by Joe (new) - added it

Joe Amazing recommendation. I suppose I need to pull this one off the shelf and dive in. I've been putting off this monster for a couple years.


Apatt Joe wrote: "Amazing recommendation. I suppose I need to pull this one off the shelf and dive in. I've been putting off this monster for a couple years."

Thank you Joe! I think it's a pretty breezy quick read in spite of the page count.


message 20: by Lyn (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lyn True, if Apatt gives this high of a recommendation I need to saddle up and read


Apatt Lyn wrote: "True, if Apatt gives this high of a recommendation I need to saddle up and read"

I wouldn't go that far Lyn, I'd feel really bad if you don't like it, and it only has a GR average rating of 3.75!


message 22: by Lyn (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lyn Ha! I'm hooked already, just ordered a copy. Looking forward to it, thanks for the review


message 23: by Ekairidium (new)

Ekairidium I started reading this two years ago and had to stop for some reason. I'll be picking this up again though! Thanks for a wonderful review!~


Apatt Ekairidium wrote: "I started reading this two years ago and had to stop for some reason. I'll be picking this up again though! Thanks for a wonderful review!~"

Thanks Ekairidium! All the nice GR friends thanking me for this review, it'd be terrible if you they end up hating the book!


7jane You should also read her "Ladies Of Grace Adieu" book, at least since it has a story that's connected to this book. (I liked "Jonathan Strange" a lot.)


Apatt 7jane wrote: "You should also read her "Ladies Of Grace Adieu" book, at least since it has a story that's connected to this book. (I liked "Jonathan Strange" a lot.)"

I seldom read short stories but as there is very little Susanna Clarke to read I will probably have to read "Ladies Of Grace Adieu" soon.
According to Wikipedia she is working on another novel in the Strange & Norrell universe, but her first novel took her a decade to write so we may not see the sequel for a while!


message 27: by Cecily (new)

Cecily Apatt wrote: "I dunno anything about The Amulet of Samarkand unfortunately. Sorry for my ignorance"

That's a YA series, so may not be your thing, though I remember my son enjoying them, and he does have pretty decent taste in literature. ;)


message 28: by Cecily (new)

Cecily Anyway, such high praise for a book. I'd been toying with the idea of getting this, but kept putting it off (I'm not sure why). Then the BBC did an adaptation. After much umming and ahhing, I decided I would be unlikely to read the book in the near future, so there was probably no harm watching the TV series. The trouble is, I really disliked the adaptation, and didn't even watch the whole of the first episode. I thereby avoided spoilers, but it rather put me off the whole thing. Anyway, your review has reminded me of all the many good GoodReaders who comment the book, so it's back on the "one day" list.


message 29: by Apatt (last edited Jun 06, 2015 09:57AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Apatt Cecily wrote: "Anyway, such high praise for a book. I'd been toying with the idea of getting this, but kept putting it off (I'm not sure why). Then the BBC did an adaptation. After much umming and ahhing, I decid..."

I think it's called peers pressure.
The TV show really takes off in the 2nd episode so if you want to give it another go just skip the first ep, you won't have any trouble following the story.

Cecily wrote: "Apatt wrote: "I dunno anything about The Amulet of Samarkand unfortunately. Sorry for my ignorance"

That's a YA series, so may not be your thing, though I remember my son enjoying them, and he doe..."


You are right there, I am outside the target demographic of YA, OAP fiction is more appropriate.


message 30: by Cecily (new)

Cecily Apatt wrote: "The TV show really takes off in the 2nd episode"

Thanks for the tip, but I think I'll give it a miss - in that medium.


message 31: by Sue (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sue Great review. I loved this book too and have recommended it to others since (who also fell under its spell). I actually was in awe of the footnotes. Clarke created such an amazingly consistent world and then gives the reader background on the world's history via the notes. So clever. I do hope there is another book someday. I'm looking forward to the TV production which begins here (US) on the 13th.


Apatt Sue wrote: "Great review. I loved this book too and have recommended it to others since (who also fell under its spell). I actually was in awe of the footnotes. Clarke created such an amazingly consistent worl..."

Thank you Sue, I just popped over to read your review and it's great! You summed it up better than I can and that opening line is lovely! As you are in the US the TV adaptation won't be shown for another week I think.


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