English magicians were once the wonder of the known world, with fairy servants at their beck and call; they could command winds, mountains, and woods. But by the early 1800s they have long since lost the ability to perform magic. They can only write long, dull papers about it, while fairy servants are nothing but a fading memory. But at Hurtfew Abbey in Yorkshire, the rich, reclusive Mr Norrell has assembled a wonderful library of lost and forgotten books from England's magical past and regained some of the powers of ...
English magicians were once the wonder of the known world, with fairy servants at their beck and call; they could command winds, mountains, and woods. But by the early 1800s they have long since lost the ability to perform magic. They can only write long, dull papers about it, while fairy servants are nothing but a fading memory. But at Hurtfew Abbey in Yorkshire, the rich, reclusive Mr Norrell has assembled a wonderful library of lost and forgotten books from England's magical past and regained some of the powers of England's magicians. He goes to London and raises a beautiful young woman from the dead. Soon he is lending his help to the government in the war against Napoleon Bonaparte, creating ghostly fleets of rain-ships to confuse and alarm the French. All goes well until a rival magician appears. Jonathan Strange is handsome, charming, and talkative-the very opposite of Mr Norrell. Strange thinks nothing of enduring the rigors of campaigning with Wellington's army and doing magic on battlefields. Astonished to find another practicing magician, Mr Norrell accepts Strange as a pupil. But it soon becomes clear that their ideas of what English magic ought to be are very different. For Mr Norrell, their power is something to be cautiously controlled, while Jonathan Strange will always be attracted to the wildest, most perilous forms of magic. He becomes fascinated by the ancient, shadowy figure of the Raven King, a child taken by fairies who became king of both England and Faerie, and the most legendary magician of all. Eventually Strange's heedless pursuit of long-forgotten magic threatens to destroy not only his partnership with Norrell, but everything that he holdsdear. Sophisticated, witty, and ingeniously convincing, Susanna Clarke's magisterial novel weaves magic into a flawlessly detailed vision of historical England. She has created a world so thoroughly enchanting that eight hundred pages leave readers longing for more.
I couldn't believe how I could have missed such a wonderful book. Not since I read JRR Tolkien as a teenager has there been such an entertaining book, and a magical literary journey. While it's not action packed or fast paced, it makes the pleasure last, like sipping fine wine instead of downing it fast!
I highly recommend it, and wish the author would write more of this sort of story.
Apr 3, 2009
This book starts a bit slow and there are too many characters introduced in the beginning to keep up with. But as you get into it, you are somehow transported back in time to the early 1900's and can witness the Napoleonic wars and hobnob with Lord Byron. The world of lost magical possibilities is opened a bit and it almost reads as an actual history. I found this a very enjoyable book.
May 10, 2007
Worth the lengthy read
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Susanna Clarke's debut novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is not the tales of magic, the land of Fairie, the way the English supposedly cast spells over Napoleon Bonaparte to win the war...but the fact that Clarke got a 800-plus page novel published as her very first. That's remarkable...but then, so is the book.
I've never been one to read "fantasy" novels, and despite liking this a great deal, I doubt that this will change. But Clarke's novel is a wonder: it begins with the premise that many hundreds of years ago, magic was accepted and widely practised throughout England, a land that intersects the magical kingdom of Fairie. Indeed, it was so accepted that one king - the Raven King, aka John Uskglass - ruled both kingdoms, as well as a third that most presumed to be Hell.
Flash forward to the early 1800s, and magic is more of a philosophy, something to be debated and studied, but not practised. Gilbert Norrell, a recluse who has bought up most of the magic books in the world, is different. He can practise magic, and because he sneers at others who merely talk about it, he comes up with a way to ensure that he is the only magician in England. All this changes when Jonathan Strange arrives; a gifted prodigy, the two begin a mentor-student relationship that forms the majority of the novel.
The story itself is quite interesting, and though it's longer than it need be, that's rarely an issue. The tone of the book is written in an Olde English style, a la Jane Austen, which does take a bit of getting used to, but again, no real complaints. Where I had issues occasionally was with the footnotes. As a huge fan of David Foster Wallace, I'm not one to complain about lengthy footnotes, but at least his are often relevant to the plot. Here, more often than not, they were amusing anecdotes, but merely that. With a book of this length, either have them lend value to the plot, or tighten it up.
All of that being said, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell was a thoroughly enjoyable book, and one that I'd definitely recommend.
Apr 2, 2007
A New Favorite
Jonathan Strange and Mr.Norrell follows the lives of two English magicians during the era of the Napoleonic Wars. Mr. Norrell is a solitary, cautious magician and Jonathan Strange is young, sociable, and enjoys taking risks. For a time they work together to bring magic back to England, but soon it seems a quarrel is inevitable. Despite its great length, I found this book to be one of the most enjoyable books that I have read in quite some time. I loved the characters' various eccentricities and quirks, and I thoroughly enjoyed the author's dry somewhat ironic sense of humor. I do think that the often essay-length footnotes were a bit much. These tangential stories were interesting in themselves, but for me it often took away from the story rather than adding to it. In all, I think this is a fantastic work, and I hope to read more by this author.
Feb 15, 2007
I got through two thirds of this book and I finally got tired of waiting for something interesting to happen. The premise of magic in a Jane Austen-type of setting is what lured me in, but the pacing in this book is so poor that I couldn't stick with it. Clarke is not a bad writer, but she ain't no Jane Austen.
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