Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Book Review: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell
by Susanna Clarke

From Goodreads:
Centuries ago, when magic still existed in England, the greatest magician of them all was the Raven King. A human child brought up by fairies, the Raven King blended fairy wisdom and human reason to create English magic. Now, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, he is barely more than a legend, and England, with its mad King and its dashing poets, no longer believes in practical magic.

Then the reclusive Mr Norrell of Hurtfew Abbey appears and causes the statues of York Cathedral to speak and move. News spreads of the return of magic to England and, persuaded that he must help the government in the war against Napoleon, Mr Norrell goes to London. There he meets a brilliant young magician and takes him as a pupil. Jonathan Strange is charming, rich and arrogant. Together, they dazzle the country with their feats.

But the partnership soon turns to rivalry. Mr Norrell has never conquered his lifelong habits of secrecy, while Strange will always be attracted to the wildest, most perilous magic. He becomes fascinated by the shadowy figure of the Raven King, and his heedless pursuit of long-forgotten magic threatens, not only his partnership with Norrell, but everything that he holds dear.

From me:
I finished it! I feel like I accomplished something major when I turned that last page. This book was excellent, but it was loooonnnggg. Do not read this book if you don't have time to devote to it - it's not one you can put down and pick up later. By the time I was half way through it I was having trouble remembering every character and every reference made, and I was reading it straight through. There's a lot of information here, but that gives this story it's depth.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell reads like Austen and it's the complexities of the characters and not the magic (which felt very commonplace, like it was the most natural thing in the world) that moves the story. I read this book for a book group, which I would only recommend if you have a long time between group meetings; it's just too bulky to read quickly. On the other hand, there is plenty to talk about, so a great discussion book. Highly recommended.

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