Simon's Reviews > Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
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Jun 15, 12

Read from December 10, 2011 to January 04, 2012

I'd like to say something about this book but don't quite know what. Here are few thoughts, at random:

1) As many people have pointed out here at GR, the story meanders - indeed, there can hardly be said to be a real story until the last two hundred or so pages. Normally, I need a real plot to keep me interested, and all the more so through a book this length. But such was this book's charm, that I didn't mind much at all about the absence of a real story.

2) It's a bit of a bait and switch. The tone at the beginning is whimsical, and although it never loses hold of whimsy entirely, it becomes much darker as it progresses. I think Ceridwen said that the moment that Norrel conjures up a faerie and makes the bargain for Lady Pole's life, you know something dark has entered.

3) I loved the emphasis on English magic all the time. One would think that if there were magic in the universe, it wouldn't be too parochial about where it manifetsed itself. But the quaintness of this alternative England (though a quaintness whose underside in poverty, racism and war one is never allowed to forget completely) somehow makes concern over the revival and fortunes of English Magic seem quite reasonable. Perhaps this emphasis was the most self-consciously 'old-fashioned' aspect of the novel, and I loved it.

4) I also really, really, really loved the names. Childermass, John Segundus, Ralph Stokesy, Thomas Godbless, Martin Pale, Francis Sutton-Grove, Belasis, Col Tom Blue. These, often embedded in a variety of charming and authentically folksy stories and anecdotes thrown in through the footnotes, and through the enchanted characters' inevitably frustrated attempts to say what was happening to them (and what a great idea that was), were utterly convincing.

5) The stock figures of 150 odd years of British drama and fiction, the vile, hissing, sycophant Drawlight and the bored, vapid, drawling gentleman Lascelles, were done perfectly.

6) Major flaw: there were no developed female characters at all. Lady Pole, Arabella Strange, and Lucy Greysteel were all promising material; but only the last of the three seemed to have much of an inner life at all. Ceridwen thought the book was largely about marriage (the marriage of Jonathan and Arabella Strange) but although what she says about their relationship is true, it registered much too little, and that was largely, I think, because Arabella was too ephemeral.
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message 1: by L (new) - rated it 5 stars

L I've picked up this book more than once & put it back down. But now, your "something" has pushed me to actually buy it. The ease of buying something for the Kindle makes reading your comments dangerous!


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