Sam's Reviews > Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
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it was amazing
bookshelves: all-time-favorites, aty-challenge-2017, 2017-reads
Read 2 times. Last read February 20, 2017 to February 24, 2017.

Most books are not for everyone, and it can occasionally be hard to determine from a cover, a blurb, a sample chapter if something will be for you or not. And even if you believe something is for you, the book still needs to reveal and unfold and delight and surprise and strike emotional chords and climax and conclude to your satisfaction by its end, all while also possessing a writing style you respond to or at least does not detract from your enjoyment. So its sometimes a wonder we like any books at all when the stakes and standards are set so high. And Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell does not go out of its way to recommend itself to a new, uninitiated reader: its length both actual and perceived can certainly intimidate and inspire dread, the vast peppering of footnotes can be wearying, and the hybrid nature of its style and genre - an alternate history fantasy of early 19th century England written in a Dickensian-Austenian manner that is self-aware and sly, touching on style points like the Gothic and romantic novel and the Byronic hero, and plot points like war with Napoleon, Lord Byron, North-South England divides, the madness of King George III, relations between servants and their masters. Add to this of course magic, magic of a nebulous and free variety, no hard and fast system, not lots of smoke (though many mirrors), nothing too showy or special, a magic of an earthy, grounded, but still foreign, complicated, dangerous variety, complete with an entire history of magic in England from the 12th century and a whole host of anecdotes and tales and figures from said history that inform the present ideas, intentions and actions. All of these disparate forces and ideas and characters and influences joined together in one place, and meant to be read as one complete work, of over a thousand pages (in my edition, and perhaps understated considering there are two and three page footnotes worked in as well)? This truly is not a book for everyone.

But if you read and were intrigued by my sprawling summary, and like reading things in a 19th century style or pastiche, and enjoy fantasy but don't need it to be as obvious or clear cut as modern fantasy novels typically show it, if you think it might be for you and are ready to commit to the novel's length and slow unfolding and building of events and ideas, then I wholeheartedly encourage you to pick up a paper copy, not least because the sheer number of footnotes would be highly aggravating to read in an e version, and settle yourself into bed or a large armchair or your sofa and begin.

Because if Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell isn't for you, you'll be irritated or wearied by it and put it aside. But if it is for you, like it is for me, it is likely to vault amongst your most favorite, beloved books, something to re-read again and again, an old, familiar friend to turn to when new reads aren't hitting the mark as near as you'd like, and yet because of its depth and richness and length and detail, you'll find something new that strikes you every time. When this book is for you, despite my version ending on page 1006, I still crave more. More of charming and arrogant and a bit absent minded but intelligent Strange (though perhaps a bit less of the Norrell of most of the book but I am a biased Strangeite, I admit), more of Arabella, more of her fascinating anti-hero of Childermass, more of the soft Mr Segundus, more appearances of Lord Wellington (whose portrayal seems both accurate and inspired), more Stephen Black and much, much more of the Raven King and the magic of England. And I love Susanna Clarke's style, and her all-knowing narrator is filled with dry wit and humor in describing events and characters. For me the writing pulls the entire ambitious thing together, its craft and execution as important as the characters and plot for me.

I know that most books you won't know until you read them if they are or aren't for you. And sometimes a book is not for you at one time, but then later is, or vice versa. But I have loved this book for over a decade, from my first, somewhat challenged read of it in 2004 when it was first published as a teenager, to now, and this is truly not a book I love from nostalgia, but for itself. I wouldn't even say it holds up well: even though I don't believe it to be perfect, I read it and am enthralled and amused and delighted and pensive every time, and though I do read it in a new light each time, I am always swept away by it. I probably read this once a year and have done so since it was first published, and can't see any reason why that would change in the future.

I dearly hope Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is for you. If you think it may not be, or start it and don't quite connect, let it pass: it is too long and coiled and difficult to pin down to waste time or effort on it if you don't like it. If you read the whole thing and don't like it, I would love to hear your feedback. But if you've read it and know it's for you, then I'm so glad someone else loves this strange, unique, fantastic yet sober tale. And if you haven't yet read it but you think this may be for you, then I'm overjoyed and somewhat envious that you can encounter and discover this novel and its world for the first time.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
September 6, 2016 – Shelved
October 7, 2016 – Shelved as: all-time-favorites
November 7, 2016 – Shelved as: aty-challenge-2017
February 20, 2017 – Started Reading
February 20, 2017 –
page 116
11.53%
February 20, 2017 –
page 265
26.34%
February 21, 2017 –
page 435
43.24%
February 21, 2017 –
page 553
54.97%
February 23, 2017 –
page 700
69.58%
February 24, 2017 – Shelved as: 2017-reads
February 24, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-23 of 23 (23 new)

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message 1: by PorshaJo (new) - added it

PorshaJo Looking forward to your review Sam! I have this one but keep procrastinating due to its length.


message 2: by Sam (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sam PorshaJo wrote: "Looking forward to your review Sam! I have this one but keep procrastinating due to its length."

This is one of those novels that I just LOVE, PorshaJo, but it is most certainly not for everyone.

Because its style and plot and alternate history fantasy in 19th-century pastiche work for me, the length didn't scare me the first time, and certainly not for subsequent reads. But I completely get length fear: I still haven't and probably never will finish Moby-Dick; or, The Whale because it just seems too long and I was uninterested by the early parts I'd read.


message 3: by Dem (new)

Dem What a terrific review Sam. So well written. I know now This book isn't for me but I enjoyed your review very much.


message 4: by Sam (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sam Dem wrote: "What a terrific review Sam. So well written. I know now This book isn't for me but I enjoyed your review very much."

Thank you so much, Dem! There are some books I feel comfortable/confident recommending to most everyone, and then there are things like this, which I adore but know it won't work for everyone. Glad you enjoyed the review anyway!


Arah-Lynda Fantastic review Sam. I definitely fall into the group of read it and loved it. I do believe that I was fortunate though as I had a trusted friend warn me that it might be difficult to get into, but I should persevere. Well it did take me a while to find my legs but I was oh so richly rewarded for my doggedness. Woot! glad you loved it.


message 6: by Sam (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sam Arah-Lynda wrote: "Fantastic review Sam. I definitely fall into the group of read it and loved it. I do believe that I was fortunate though as I had a trusted friend warn me that it might be difficult to get into, bu..."

Thank you, Arah-Lynda! It definitely helps to have someone encourage/prepare you for reads like this. And I agree that it gets much less difficult and daunting as you go, so perseverance can be key. Glad you also love this!!


message 7: by Candi (new) - added it

Candi An excellent review, Sam! I really am intrigued by this book - your review has me pondering whether I should give it a try. I own a copy and think I will pick it up one of these days. I just need to find the right time :)


message 8: by Sam (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sam Candi wrote: "An excellent review, Sam! I really am intrigued by this book - your review has me pondering whether I should give it a try. I own a copy and think I will pick it up one of these days. I just need t..."

Candi, if it's intriguing you I'd say go for it! You'll probably know fairly quickly if the writing is for you, though connection with the plot, characters, and world take a bit longer. I hope if you try it, this book is for you!


message 9: by Amber (new) - added it

Amber That was a beautiful, thoughtfully written review.


message 10: by Sam (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sam Amber wrote: "That was a beautiful, thoughtfully written review."

Thank you so much, Amber!


message 11: by Ammara (new) - added it

Ammara Abid Brilliant review.


message 12: by Sam (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sam Ammara wrote: "Brilliant review."

Thanks so much, Ammara! Hope you enjoy it if you read it!


message 13: by Larry (new)

Larry H Terrific review, Sam! I remember reading this when it first came out, and I DEVOURED it!!


message 14: by Sam (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sam Larry wrote: "Terrific review, Sam! I remember reading this when it first came out, and I DEVOURED it!!"

Devour is a great word for this read, Larry. Although I suppose it consumes me as much as I consume it since I can't read anything else at the same time easily and all my extra time goes into reading it. Glad you enjoyed the book (and my review)!


message 15: by Pam (new)

Pam Baddeley This book is one of my few ever DNFs; I really wanted to like it and the description as a quirky alternative 19th century different type of fantasy appealed but for me the execution just didn't work.


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

Sam Pam wrote: "This book is one of my few ever DNFs; I really wanted to like it and the description as a quirky alternative 19th century different type of fantasy appealed but for me the execution just didn't work."

Pam, I can absolutely see why you or anyone would DNF or not enjoy this: it's a lot of things at once, and has a style and manner of narration and construction that can be polarizing. Sorry this didn't work for you!


message 17: by Sue (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sue I loved this book too. I loved how Clarke created a complete world, with fascinating footnotes detailing the history of her creation. I read it at few years ago and, sadly, have since sold the book...too big to move with all the books I own. I do have the kindle version and hope that will be manageable for a second read. Thanks for your great review. I too have been hoping for a sequel of some sort. So much more to find out!


message 18: by Sam (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sam Sue wrote: "I loved this book too. I loved how Clarke created a complete world, with fascinating footnotes detailing the history of her creation. I read it at few years ago and, sadly, have since sold the book..."

Sue, books are the one thing that I find difficult to whittle down in a move: I purged a bunch during my most recent move, but I don’t think I can go through it again when I next move, too painful :-) I think for a second read, an electronic copy will totally work, I would just find it maddening the first time round if I was perpetually switching between narrative page to a footnote page and back. And I LOVE the footnotes, they add so much color and detail and authenticity to the world she built. 

I haven’t read The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories yet, so I know there’s a small piece of other Strange & Norrell out there I haven’t discovered. And I had heard she’d been working on a follow up, but had some health issues that delayed or prevented that from occurring. Hopefully she's well now (and of course I mean that regardless of if we ever get a sequel).


message 19: by Melissa (new)

Melissa Lovely review, Sam!


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

Sam Melissa wrote: "Lovely review, Sam!"

Thank you so much, Melissa!!!


message 21: by Adina (new) - added it

Adina I am very intrigued by your review an I have this on my TBR but the size of it is intimidating. Thank you for the tip on reading a physical copy because of the footnotes.


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

Sam Adina wrote: "I am very intrigued by your review an I have this on my TBR but the size of it is intimidating. Thank you for the tip on reading a physical copy because of the footnotes."

Adina, no problem! Though it is long, for me at least there are fewer slow moments or lulls in the storytelling, so it kept me going. i think it's size definitely appears more daunting that is, versus say for my taste Don Quixote, which was exactly as long if not longer than it looked to be.


message 23: by Kathleen (new)

Kathleen Flynn This is a great review. Thanks, Sam!


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