Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell #review

Title: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Author: Susanna Clarke
Publisher: Tor, 2006

I admit I struggled initially with this book, and it had a false start the first time I tried to read it. I'm glad I gave it that second shot and persevered until the end. The first thing that strikes me is that Susanna Clarke is a keen observer of people's natures. With minimal brushstrokes she's able to capture the essence of a character's personality.

Not just that, but she effortlessly subverts history. The tale is long and winding, and although slow-moving it's the smaller story arcs that provide some of the best entertainment.

Superficially the novel is about the tensions between Mr Norrell, who's a by-the-book kind of magician who's convinced that none but he is qualified to study and practice magic. He is aided by his servant Childermass, who's a dab hand at reading cards.

Jonathan Strange enters the picture almost quite by accident, but he's quite the opposite of his counterpart, Norrell. Since he must do without bookish learning, he sets about *doing* magic and learning that way.

At first Strange is the student of Norrell, but predictably this relationship sours. Added to the mix is an ancient and malevolent fairy (the gentleman with the thistledown hair) who causes much chaos.

Magic has returned to England, but its arrival won't be without incident.

This is a beautiful Gothic novel, much in the same vein as Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast. If you're not used to the style of writing, there's a chance you're going to struggle, but please, please do try. This is an epic, lush tale, filled with many ironies and plenty of little surprises that are bound to make you smile.

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