Friday, June 01, 2007

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

I have been meaning to read this for well over a year, having received this large, severe-looking volume as a much-coveted Christmas present. But it was too heavy for traveling, and a first-effort convinced me that I wouldn't be satisfied by sandwiching it in between other activities, an hour here and a half-hour there. So I have reserved it for a time when I could clear the decks and really get into it.

The story begins with the emergence of Mr. Norrell, a reclusive magician, from obscurity. Mr. Norrell feels the need to help with the war effort (the Napoleonic War effort, that is), and to restore magic to its rightful place as a respectable profession, to be practiced only by gentlemen such as himself. But when Jonathan Strange turns up, unquestionably a gentleman and equally unquestionably magically talented, the two forge an uneasy alliance that ebbs and flows with events both personal and political, with an ending that was wholly unexpected and perhaps inevitable.

But did I like it? At first I did, charmed by Susanna Clarke's Jane-Austen-meets-J-K-Rowling voice. Then I decided it was too gothic and depressing, but I wanted to finish it anyway since I had to see how it ended. Then, as the storyline began gathering all the threads together, I began to appreciate the Dickensian characterizations more, and by the time I read the last page, I decided to join in the throng of reviewers who have called it "an instant classic," among other lavish praises.

So, yeah. Read it.


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