Carol. [All cynic, all the time]'s Reviews > Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
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Mar 23, 12

bookshelves: classic, fantasy, male-lead, my-library, time-period-fantasy, awards
Recommended for: Victorian fantasy fans, insomniacs
Read from February 10 to March 16, 2012

In the beginning was a preface, and then an introduction, followed by some exposition, and then an opening.

Looking through the reviews, it appears many people either adore it or hate it. Frankly, I'm in neither camp, because I can't work up enough emotion to care. It took a long time to become interested, and I finally had to resort to a strategy of reading only a few chapters at a time, setting free any expectation that this was a book that would pull me in and never let me go. It became the perfect book to read before bed, a non-habit forming Ambien that avoided unpleasant dreams while lulling me into sleep. The language and structure of the tale is a formidable barrier to easy enjoyment; this is Great Expectations, the original, uncut director's copy, thick enough in mass market paperback to soak with water and turn into a paper-mache brick. The final obstacle to delight is the general distastefulness of Mr. Norrell. This is improved somewhat when Jonathan Strange enters the tale, and for a while I was able to read without Mr. Sandman paying a visit.

I found much of the tale philosophizing about the character of England, and the distinctions between the north and the south tedious as they are somewhat non-accessible and lack relevance to the non-English. In some ways, I suspect the cultural conflict might resemble American regional conflicts, but it takes a talented author to make the conflict relevant across oceans and time. I understand Clarke is doing; I just lack interest in the subject matter, so the voice starts to sound a lot like the adults in Charlie Brown. Muhua wa wa...

Unfortunately, the writing style and it's take on various popular Victorian styles is monotonous for me. Although I enjoy the 19th century British mysteries, and Wodehousian humor, Clarke has neither the tightly woven mystery nor the snappy dialogue that keeps me interested in those forms. When it comes to writing style, I can see why some people would find her writing interesting, especially if they are fans of the time period; it just fails to resonate for me in the way it is presented. The footnotes occasionally amusing as they frequently contain opinionated commentary. I read recently that Clarke wrote the story in "bundles" and ended up working at fitting them together. In retrospect, this might explain some of the jumps in plotting and setting, and account for the way plots were set down and then picked up a hundred pages later.

I was pleased to discover the magical or supernatural elements play a larger role than I expected from reading other reviews. One of the characters and plotlines I struggled with was that of the "white-haired gentleman." While it certainly brought magical elements to the story, I felt like he was a distraction and never fully woven into the plot. His obsession with Stephen, was particularly odd, and I never felt like I understood it's connection to Norrell and Strange.

Clarke does sprinkle gentle humor throughout the story that occasionally caused twitters or giggles. One of the first lines to make me laugh:

"He was so clean and healthy and pleased about everything that he positively shone--which is only to be expected in a fairy or an angel but is somewhat disconcerting in an attorney."

Cross posted at http://clsiewert.wordpress.com/2013/0...

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Comments (showing 1-17 of 17) (17 new)

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John It took a monumental effort on my part to get started with this book, but a quarter of the way through it starts to pick up quite a bit.


Carol. [All cynic, all the time] I've heard so many good things about it, I have faith and will try again--when I can give it the attention it deserves. Thanks for the encouragement!


message 3: by Gary (new) - rated it 1 star

Gary Hated it!


Carol. [All cynic, all the time] Gary, I'm with you. I just read a quick bit of background and Clarke stated she wrote it in 'bundles' and ended up stitching it together. I feel that's fairly evident reading. I wonder how much acclaim is due to being championed by Gaiman?


John "The final obstacle to delight is the general distastefulness of Mr. Norrell. This is improved somewhat when Jonathan Strange enters the tale, and for a while I was able to read without Mr. Sandman paying a visit."

Oh so true. When Strange comes into the picture is right around when the novel got interesting for me. Norrell's tightfisted hold on magic and his bland personality grated on me and usually put me to sleep.


Carol. [All cynic, all the time] John, I agree. It's not often that I run into fantasy that makes me so sleepy!


message 7: by TK421 (new) - added it

TK421 I have attempted this one a few times. Alas, I never seem to get farther than 50 or so pages...perhaps this means something?


Carol. [All cynic, all the time] Gavin wrote: "I have attempted this one a few times. Alas, I never seem to get farther than 50 or so pages...perhaps this means something?"

Yes. It means we like Parker's Spenser novels better than Victorian writers like Austen and Dickens. And we might have a low sleep threshold. ;)


mark monday nice review - although i did completely love this one, it is one of my favorite modern novels.

i had to giggle a little bit about your distaste for Mr. Norell. now i really want you to read my tongue-in-cheek paen to that character (who i also love). please!

http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...


Carol. [All cynic, all the time] An 'Alpha team' shelf. Giggle.

You hit it on the head, mark, he is a stranger in a strange land, but it seems to me that despite his intellect, there is very little that is redeeming about his personality. Strange is the one time he seems to reach out to connect to another human, so he won me some sympathy there. It's not that I hated him--can you hate what is pathetic?--but more like... meh. Not a person I want to read 1000 pages about.


Thomas Taylor Carol, I mostly agree with your sentiment. It's kind of a slow, plodding affair, and it over-complicates itself. I enjoyed it somewhat, but I can't say I'd recommend it to others. Then again I listened to it on a cross-country drive, so anything is more interesting than driving through Texas, I suppose.


message 12: by Paul (new) - added it

Paul ...hmmm, so maybe I'll just wait for the movie :)


Karen I have to agree with your feelings toward this book. I liked it in a slow way, but when it came time to turn it back into the library & I had only gone a third of the way through, it didn't bother me one bit to turn it back in.


Carol. [All cynic, all the time] Thomas wrote: "Carol, I mostly agree with your sentiment. It's kind of a slow, plodding affair, and it over-complicates itself. I enjoyed it somewhat, but I can't say I'd recommend it to others. Then again I..."

Oh, heavens, Thomas. I would have fell asleep at the wheel for certain. Last time I did a cross-country, I listened to Harry Potter and still got sleepy.


Carol. [All cynic, all the time] Karen wrote: "I have to agree with your feelings toward this book. I liked it in a slow way, but when it came time to turn it back into the library & I had only gone a third of the way through, it didn't bother ..."

I can relate! I tried to sell it back to the used bookstore.


message 16: by Jocelyn (last edited Apr 28, 2013 01:30PM) (new) - added it

Jocelyn Good review, even though I ended up loving this. I do agree with your assessment of Mr. Norrell (should've touched on that in my own review, dammit!). I was sort of like, "dude...get over it."

Anyhow, sorry you didn't like it, but I enjoyed reading your thoughts!


Carol. [All cynic, all the time] Ha, Jocelyn, I saw you had finished it recently and was on the other side of the fence :) I just didn't get why people loved it, but I think one of the reasons is that I'm not the right audience for this book.


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