John's Reviews > Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
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's review
Dec 02, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: 2011, sf-fantasy, london
Read from December 02 to 14, 2011


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Alisa I always hear good things about this book, but for some reason I don't believe them. I have a copy (in fact, it's an ARC, so that let's you know how long I haven't believed it.) Can you tell me something that will convince me that it's fun/enjoyable and not just "good"?

John Hi Alisa,

I've been gathering my thoughts on this one since finishing it. I really enjoyed it, despite the fact that the plot goes seriously (though not unenjoyably) off the rails in the last hundred pages or so. As far as something to convince you that it's more than "good", let's see....

Well, I'm not usually into books about fairies, and neither am I all that into Victorian-era fiction, so on that score this novel started off with two handicaps and still managed to sink its hooks deep enough into me to carry me through its 700+ pages. All the main characters are vivid in a way that Dickens's characters are vivid, that is they're almost operatic and maybe just on the opposite side of the line of caricature, but always psychologically plausible and just plain fun to read. (One fairly large exception here, though, are the female characters, which are strangely few and more one-note than their male counterparts).

I think what's so enjoyable about this novel is the narrative counterpoint it's got going on. It is kind of a deal-with-the-devil story fused with a clash-of-wills story, with generous amounts of problem-solving-via-magic and picaresque continent-hopping adventure gilded on top. Not to get too summarize-y, but Norrell, you see, wants to bring magic back to England after several fallow centuries. In order to get the attention he needs from the right kind of people, he makes a kind of Faustian bargain, which (of course!) end up wrecking the havock that propels the story. At the same time, Strange enters the story, and his his philosophy of magic and his personality are at odds with Norrell's, and their thei long-simmering dissonances create a tasty tension that, when the eventual fallout occurs, is quite pleasing and adds another compelling layer of intrigue. And then there's the magic, which is just very well done.

I hope that helps!

Alisa IT does. Your middle paragraph made me think that I should go downstairs and get it off the shelf and take it with me for the long holiday week in PA. I'll need something absorbing to take my mind off all the family togetherness -- and absorbing is what it sounds like this is. Thank you!

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