Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Review by Amanda White
The year is 1806 and the country is England. The Napoleonic wars are raging in France and magic, an academic subject only, is no longer practised. A street peddler foretells of a prophesy of the return of magic to England, which has been dead since the disappearance of the Raven King some three hundred years ago.
Enter Mr Norrell, his magical displays enchant the nation, he raises fair maidens from the dead and sends ghost ships to battle the French. He is at pains however, to ensure that no other lays claim to his title of Englandís Greatest (and only) Magician and with the help of his servant Childermass, he searches out every book of practical magic to be added to his private library and every theoretical magician to ensure their interest in the subject swiftly wanes...with a little persuasion. Enter Jonathan Strange, a young man who appears to challenge Mr Norrell's status. Although only a novice, his talents are brilliant and whilst Norrell has poured for years over his books to obtain his knowledge Strange's natural aptitude for the subject knows no bounds. A battle between these two magicians threatens to overshadow even the war. Their dark practices cause them more trouble than they could ever, possibly imagine.
"Ever since the first evening Mr Segundas had been intending to ask Mr Honeyfoot about the Learned Society of Magicians of Manchester which Dr Foxcastle had mentioned. He did so now. "It was a society of quite recent foundation," said Mr Honeyfoot, "and its members were clergymen of the poorer sort, respectable ex-tradesmen, apothecaries, lawyers, retired mill owners who got up a little Latin and so forth, such as people might be termed half-gentleman. I believe Dr Foxcastle was glad when they disbanded - he does not think that people of that sort have any business becoming magicians. And yet, you know, there were several clever men among them. They began, as you did, with the aim of bringing back practical magic to the world. They were practical men and wished to apply the principal of reason and science to magic as they had done to the manufacturing arts. They called it 'Rational Thaumaturgy'. When it did not work they became discouraged. Well, they cannot be blamed for that. But they let their disillusionment lead them into all sorts of difficulties. They began to think that there was not now nor ever had been magic in the world. They said that the Aureate magicians were all deceivers or were themselves deceived. And that the Raven King was an invention of the northern English to keep themselves from the tyranny of the south (being north-country men themselves they had some sympathy with that). Oh, their arguments were very ingenious - I forget how they explained fairies. They disbanded, as I told you, and one of them, whose name was Aubrey I think, meant to write it all down and publish it. But when it came to the point he found a sort of fixed melancholy had settled on him and was not able to rouse himself enough to begin."
This novel creates such an atmosphere that you could almost be in 19th century England, in fact the attention to detail is such that at times, even with the obvious fantasy subject matter, you feel as if you are reading an historical account of real events. It is the clever use of real historical figures such as Wellington and Byron woven throughout the book that lends an authenticity to the events you are reading about and it is seamlessly done. The pomposity of the English ladies and gentlemen of the era is fully realised and Susanna Clarke has written the book in a style not dissimilar to Dickens and Austin.
This is a large book at over 800 pages but the richness of the tale keeps the reader enchanted until the very end. Clarke brings life to all her characters and her imagination leaps out from every page. To have kept the writing style uniform throughout is itself a triumph.
The book contains many footnotes, which could easily of distracted from the story but instead provide interesting stories of their own and are integral to understanding the character and other world of 'Faerie', which is the starting point of the Raven King and therefore all English Magic.
Susanna Clarke shows amazing intellect and imagination in creating this new world and it is a joy for the reader to immerse himself or herself in. This book is highly recommended and mainly for adults. It is a genuinely original and arresting story and will establish Susanna Clarke as one of the finest new authors of our generation.
Jones from USA
I tried and tried again to get into this book because of the high ratings and initial strong promise of how the first magician's character was introduced. I just could not hang on as the story progressed very slowly and took on so many different paths. This is the first time I've felt relieved to give up before reaching the end.
D from Ukraine
It's really amazing! I loved every page. It has style. I enjoyed the text itself as much as I enjoyed the plot. It is exquisitely British, it has both novelty and tradition.
Nancy from Minnesota, USA
I was eager to read this book, mistakenly thinking it was an adult Harry Potter book. The idea was interesting; however, the execution was poor.
Richard from London
A great premise, but a terrible book. I kept reading purely in the hope that it would get better; it didn't. Do yourself a favour; go and stare at a brick wall, you won't notice the difference.
Alex from San Francisco
SOOOOOOOO BOOOOOOORRRRRIIIINNNNGGGGG... but... not entirely unreadable... I think it's still worth a look... just be prepared to get bored.
John from Childermass
I see a lot of reviews that indicate this book is "boring." Nonsense! "Dry" it may be, but boring it is NOT. I can see how a generation (or several) that was raised on television and to-the-point novels might have trouble coping with the delightful "Austen-esque" use of language. I admit this is not a book for all readers. Personally, I absolutely loved it. The delightfully dry humor, the 'historical' footnotes, the intriguingly complex use of magic and mystery...the amazing use of language only increases the pleasure. Though a seriously weighty tome, I finished this book in just two days, I was so engrossed in it's story. If you've an appreciation for Romantic literature and fantasy, you MUST give this book it's fair chance.
Miguel from Portugal
Was offered this book as a present but it was boring, lacking of action and overly descriptive in the sense that the said descriptions added nothing except sleep induction...I have to agree it is way overrated although very well written it lacks substance.
Otto from South America
This book should be called "Jonathan Tedious & Mr. Boring". Most boring, tedious, sleep inducing piece of literature I have ever tried to read. I like big books (Thomas Mann, Tolstoi, Dostoievski are among my favourites). Language is not the problem, I love Dante, Homer, Dickens. Fantasy is very dear to me, I have read Tolkien and the full Harry Potter series, and they are excellent. The problem? Nothing ever seems to happen in this book. The characters are uninteresting, and I wanted most of them to die violently, due to boredom. You have to wait for 300 pages for one of the main characters to appear... I really tried. Until I started reading this book (I borrowed if from a friend, fortunately) I was very proud of never leaving a book unfinished. It is pretentious, overrated. Don't waste your time, go read a Donald Duck comics, it has much more substance and style. :)
Gracie from Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S.
An amazing book.
Donnacha from Ireland
Just so boring, dull and slow.
Ragnar from Norway
This is one of the few fantasy books I actually simply gave up on reading due to the boredom induced by the book itself. Altough fairly imaginative the alarmingly slow pace at which it moves forth makes it the most unworthy nr.5 on a top 100 list I have ever seen. Just my opinion.
Harry from United States
Way over-rated and very boring.
Patrick from Los Angeles
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Sorry, tried this book 3 times - never got beyond page 100. Dry.
Jane from Wiltshire
This is a book that I can not praise highly enough. It\'s magical, the period setting the most believable I have ever encountered. Beautifully written with a wonderfully dry humour throughout. This is a book that shows that fantasy is not just elves and goblins but can be a book of which Charles Dickens would be proud! 10 out of 10!
Mary from Lancashire
I have just finished this book, which has taken a couple of weeks as I only get to read for a short time in the evenings. It is an amazing book and although it requires at times real commitment in following the story (not least with the footnotes being a whole other book in themselves!)it rewards you richly with the beautiful prose and incredible attention to detail making this book a true modern classic that you just have to read!
Thomas from Leeds
A truly wonderful book that has great characters and fantastic plot. The sense of humour that runs through is dry but often hilarious. This is fantasy for adults, I doubt that children would enjoy it, mainly due to the size of the book (800+ pages) and they would probably find the themes slightly too adult to enjoy.
William from Glasgow
The way the book is written is the key for me with this book, the footnotes, which could have made it seem like a history book, are wonderfully witty and do not distract you from the story itself. The story is great, the two magicians, Mr Norrell and Jonathan Strange are completely different but complement each other superbly. The supporting cast, which includes Childermass, Drawlight, Segundas and Black do what a supporting cast should do and this all goes to make reading it a real treat. Susanna Clarke will be hard pressed to write another book this good bit I, for one, am hoping that she succeeds.
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