Diane's Reviews > Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
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really liked it
bookshelves: audiobooks, fantasy, british-charm

I finally finished! My paperback was more than 1,000 pages long, so this is a triumph.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is a book that I started out loving, but the middle part dragged so much that I grew impatient for the story to end. I feel so differently about the two halves of the book that I wish I could issue two Goodreads ratings.

Let's start with what I liked about this novel. Susanna Clarke has a great imagination and a good sense of humor. The story is set in the early 1800s in England and follows the adventures of two magicians, Mr. Strange and Mr. Norrell. They have different opinions about magic, and while they start out as collaborators, they later become enemies. At different times, both magicians are enlisted to help the British Army and Navy in the Napoleonic Wars. (The extensive battle scenes are what started to drag down the book.) The story also involves a spiteful fairy, who likes to steal people away to his kingdom. The story builds until there is a fateful showdown between the mean fairy and the magicians. There's a lot else going on, but to try and summarize it all would drive me mad.

Parts of this book were charming and amusing, and I sometimes smiled while reading, more so in the first half. Clarke's wit has been compared to Jane Austen's, but let's not get carried away, people. I'll grant that it's amusing, and Clarke captured some foibles of human nature. But this wouldn't make my list of things I regularly recommend to fans of Miss Austen.

My complaints about the book revolve mostly around its epic, meandering story, which did not have to be 1,000 pages. This book was desperately in need of a tougher editor. Clarke also included lots of footnotes, most of which were too clever by half. I listened to this on audio, and the footnotes were read at the indicated place in the text, but if I had just read the print book I would have quickly grown irritated and skimmed all of them.

My other frustration with this book was how dim-witted Strange and Norrell were. They were ridiculously slow to catch on to what the evil fairy was doing, despite the fact that they were supposed to be clever, powerful magicians. It seemed like the author was dragging out their ignorance in order to lengthen the story, which really didn't need any lengthening.

While I do have complaints about this book, I did enjoy a good part of it. These epic novels are so difficult to rate. I think I'll give the first half a 4 and the last half a 3. I'll be generous and rate this a 3.5 rounded up to 4.

Recommended, with caution, to those who like magical stories and British humor.

Favorite Quotes
"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."

"Well, I suppose one ought not to employ a magician and then complain that he does not behave like other people."

"I have a scholar's love of silence and solitude. To sit and pass hour after hour in idle chatter with a roomful of strangers is to me the worst sort of torment."

"Houses, like people, are apt to become rather eccentric if left too much on their own; this house was the architectural equivalent of an old gentleman in a worn dressing-gown and torn slippers, who got up and went to bed at odd times of day, and who kept up a continual conversation with friends no one else could see."

"Oh! And they read English novels! David! Did you ever look into an English novel? Well, do not trouble yourself. It is nothing but a lot of nonsense about girls with fanciful names getting married."

"The argument he was conducting with his neighbor as to whether the English magician had gone mad because he was a magician, or because he was English."
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Reading Progress

December 12, 2012 – Shelved
December 1, 2015 – Started Reading
December 2, 2015 –
1.0% "I just started this novel and am really enjoying it. It makes me wish I could stay home and read all day."
December 4, 2015 –
14.0% "This is wonderful! A perfect winter read."
December 8, 2015 –
60.0% "I'm still enjoying this, but it gets a little boggy in the middle."
December 9, 2015 –
65.0% "Even though they are powerful magicians, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell are remarkably dim-witted."
December 12, 2015 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-16 of 16 (16 new)

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message 1: by Melora (new) - added it

Melora Good review! I started this one and lost interest, and it has been sitting on my shelf, hoping to be picked up again, for Years. Your "favorite quotes" do make it seem tempting enough... maybe someday I'll get back to it.


Diane Thanks, Melora. If I had only read this in print, I think I would have gotten frustrated and given up. Listening to it on audio helped me push through the boggy parts.


message 3: by Melora (new) - added it

Melora Ah ha! My other internet friend who mentioned finally having finished this one also listened to it. Clearly that is the way to go. (Adding it to my Audible list!)


Evgeny Nice review. My major complaint about this one was exactly the same as yours: authors should not hesitate to drop unnecessary written parts, no matter how much they love it; this makes for a tighter written book.


Diane Thanks, Evgeny. I agree, I think Clarke should have dropped some unnecessary sections. This was bloated in parts.


Teresa Nice review, Diane. My issue with the book was that I kept waiting for it to 'mean' something (though I realize not all books have to 'mean' something), and waiting, and waiting ... and then it was over.


message 7: by Sue (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sue I'm one of those who simply loved it, in all of its parts. I guess I revelled in the pure fantasy of it, the created world, complete with its own history (by way of the footnotes). To be honest, I can't imagine listening to a book like this as I like the ability to 're-read sentences or paragraphs easily.


❀⊱RoryReads⊰❀ I've tired to get through this book three times and have given up. I think I'll try the audio version, even with the annoying footnotes. 2016 goal!


Diane Hi Teresa, I understand what you mean. While I enjoyed most of the book, it's not something I will ponder for weeks to come.


Diane Hi Sue, Clarke did an incredible job of creating that world. She has a great imagination. I understand not everyone likes audiobooks, but I really liked the narrator on this one. I also had a print copy to refer to.


Diane Hi Rory, I really liked the narrator of this audio. I listened to the sample, and that's what sold me on trying this novel in audiobook. I hope you find it enjoyable!


message 12: by B (new) - added it

B Schrodinger Great review Diane. My attempt at this stalled, but I do intend to get back to it. I have the audio of it waiting for me on Audible which I'll probably start early in the new year.


Diane Hi Brendon, it sounds like this book has stalled many a reader! I hope you find the audio version as enjoyable as I did. The narrator was really good.


message 14: by B (new) - added it

B Schrodinger It should. I was enjoying it somewhat when it stalled. Yeah, I'm a bit weird.

Merry Christmas to you Diane and thanks for another wonderful year of reviews.


message 15: by Nariman (new) - added it

Nariman Awesome review Diane , am currently reading this , am at the beginning and enjoying it , but terrified of the length of the story, while am enjoying very much the humor and the details, I find that some of it could've easily been removed, and the footnotes!! Am skimming some and reading others , if I get too irritated with them I'll skim them all.


Margitte You summarize this book so well, Diane. I had a merry giggle at your comment: "There's a lot else going on, but to try and summarize it all would drive me mad." That is exactly how I felt. I cannot say that this was one of the best reads, but certainly an interesting one for me due to the witty, sharp social comments contained in it.


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