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Someone once told me that if you can get past the few hundred pages of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, you won’t be able to put it down. I made my first attempt to get through those couple hundred pages several months ago. I failed miserably. There was just something about seeing almost a thousand pages that I still had to read that made it very difficult to give the book a fair chance. I ended up putting it away and vowing to go back to it again. The next time I attempted to read the novel, it was in audiobook format, and I found that once I got past those first few hundred pages, I didn’t want to stop listening.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is an epic historical fantasy. Taking place during the Napoleonic wars, the novels tells about an England where magic has completely disappeared. Magicians no longer practice magic, but study magic academically. That is until Mr. Norrell reveals himself. Unlike other English magicians, he can actually perform the spells that he studies, and he his determined to bring magic back to England. Unfortunately, the peculiar, nervous little man is not exactly what people expect to see in a magician, and when Mr. Norrell says that he wants to restore magic to England, he means that he should be its only magician. Then Jonathan Strange, a younger, more personable gentleman beginning to study magic, enters the story. Is England big enough for two very different magicians?

My summary above doesn’t do this book justice. Certainly one of the biggest themes of the book is the relationship between the two main characters (as anyone who has seen the title could probably guess) but it’s about so much more. It’s an exciting adventure novel about magical battles in the Napoleonic war. It’s a comedy of manners that satirizes class relations in England. It’s a magical story that tells about wicked fairies whisking away humans to their realms. It possesses extensive footnotes which creates a giant historical backdrop for a magical England. It’s also not just Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell’s story. Side characters often step in and take control of the narrative, my favorites being the proper servant Stephen Black, the wicked Gentlemen with the Thistledown Hair, and Mr. Norrell’s servant Childermass. Written in the style of a Victorian novel, this book is just bursting with characters and content. Susanna Clark has created a rich world that, despite its magical atmosphere, feels just as real as our own.

I highly recommend that anyone who wants to read this book goes for the audiobook. Simon Prebble does a fantastic job creating the voices of the different characters. I’m honestly not sure that I would enjoy this book as much if it was not for his narration.

Rating: five out of five stars
Length: the print version is 1024 pages
Source: theaudiolibrary
TBR Pile: 152 books
Similar Books: His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik (reviewed here) is also a historical fantasy book that takes place during the Napoleonic wars. For dueling magicians, try The Prestige by Christopher Priest. For a magical story that feels very “English,” go with the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling, or Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman.
Other books I've read by this author: Nothing!

At the moment I’m listening to the audiobook of Son of a Witch by Gregory Maguire and reading the fifth Buffy Omnibus (graphic novel). So far, I find that I’m disappointed with both, which is really strange for me! I’m trying not to be too judgmental about Son of a Witch. I did not enjoy the beginnings of Wicked of Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister and I ended up loving both.

I also just finished reading a book for school about web design. I’m debating over whether I should post a review for it or not.

xposted to temporaryworlds  and bookish 


( 28 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 28th, 2009 11:21 pm (UTC)
I haven't heard the audiobook at all, but i'm glad it got you interested! For me, i was hooked from the get-go. I bought the hardcover edition, with its lovely, thick, uncut pages, and i just sat drinking cup after cup of tea and feeling like i was part of this magical world.

I also highly recommend Clark's short story book, in the same universe, The Ladies of Grace Adieu. I recommend it to people who had trouble with Strange and Norrell cause of the length.
Feb. 28th, 2009 11:26 pm (UTC)
The Ladies of Grace Adieu is a lovely book (and I have a gorgeous copy of it, which my parents gave me. They have great taste). I agree that it's easier to sit down and read than Strange and Norrell, but I think the novel is more fulfilling, and once you get into it it's totally consuming.
Feb. 28th, 2009 11:30 pm (UTC)
I totally agree. But after finishing Strange and Norrell, and hungry for more of the same, Ladies of Grace Adieu was a nice taste. And i imagine it would work well the other way around, too. If someone read Ladies of Grace Adieu and enjoyed it, they might have more incentive to finish the novel!
Feb. 28th, 2009 11:44 pm (UTC)
Never heard of The Ladies of Grace Adieu! O_O I'll look it up straightaway, thanks so much for bringing it to my attention :D
Mar. 1st, 2009 01:02 am (UTC)
Very welcome! I'm always glad to be an enabler :D
Mar. 1st, 2009 08:52 am (UTC)
Feb. 28th, 2009 11:44 pm (UTC)
Her writing is somewhat addictive. Apparently she's working on a book set in the same world, but a few years later. I'm hoping it won't take her ten years to write, like Strange and Norrell, because I really want to read it..
Mar. 1st, 2009 01:01 am (UTC)
Well, i know she's been working on that for at least two years, cause i went to see her speak then and she mentioned it. I hope she can at LEAST halve the writing time on this one! I could wait another three years. I don't WANT to, but i can.
Mar. 1st, 2009 12:07 am (UTC)
I've heard good things about The Ladies of Grace Adieu. I hope that I'll be able to pick it up in the future :)
Mar. 1st, 2009 02:08 am (UTC)
Ladies of Grace Adieu
Jsut an FYI: Ladies of Grace Adieu is also out on audio, featuring the wonderful Mr. Prebble and Davina Porter, also a fabulous narrator. I enjoyed it very much.
Mar. 1st, 2009 03:32 am (UTC)
Re: Ladies of Grace Adieu
Neat! I'm familiar with Davina Porter (she narrated Philippa Gregory's The Virgin's Lover). That sounds great :)
Feb. 28th, 2009 11:23 pm (UTC)
I'd be interested in the web-design book review, for one. Can't vouch for anyone else, of course.
Mar. 1st, 2009 12:08 am (UTC)
Re: Hmmm...
I'll probably post it tomorrow then. Thanks for letting me know :)
Feb. 28th, 2009 11:45 pm (UTC)
I loved this book, but the first time I read it, it was more because I felt challenged by its imposing length. I don't think I registered or comprehended most of it that first time =X

But I've reread it a few times since, and it just gets better every time. It's become one of my favorite books and I'll be sure to check out that audiobook now :P

Btw, what side character interested you the most? The last time I read it, I got very interested in Childermass :D
Mar. 1st, 2009 12:10 am (UTC)
Childermass is one of my favorites, as is Stephen Black. For some reason I found myself really interested in the "lower-class" characters. I also found The Gentleman with the Thistledown hair to be a lot of fun. His callousness made me giggle a few times.
Mar. 1st, 2009 08:53 am (UTC)
I think he's one of the better 'villains' that I've come across. He's just...what he is. Not malicious, exactly, but vicious! :D
Feb. 28th, 2009 11:49 pm (UTC)
I have listened to the CD version of this at least ten times. My husband and I listen to it over and over, and I put it on my ipod and it lulls me to sleep at night. It is one of my favorite books ever.

Even though it's so long, I never get the feeling that Susanna Clarke is overwriting. There is never that "too many words" feeling. It's just fabulous from beginning to end.
Mar. 1st, 2009 12:11 am (UTC)
Glad to hear you enjoy the audiobook so much! I also agree about the overwriting thing. It's just the style she's writing in.
Mar. 1st, 2009 02:34 am (UTC)
Oh man... third-longest book I've ever read (right behind The Tale of Genji and one of the Harry Potter books), and one of my absolute favorites. I think I covered the latter half of it in just a few days because it got so oh-damn-what-happens-next? XP
Mar. 1st, 2009 03:33 am (UTC)
Wow. You've read the entire Tale of Genji? I debated over picking that up after reading The Tale or Murasaki but I was too intimidated by it's length.
Mar. 1st, 2009 03:37 am (UTC)
I have. Began with Volume I of the Arthur Waley translation (don't ask me why he divided it up like that; no one seems to know), finished it through with the Edward G. Seidensticker translation. Small print. 1184 pages. Took me three weeks, after a few months' interlude between the Waley Volume and finding the Seidensticker copy.
Mar. 1st, 2009 04:44 am (UTC)
I loved this book but it was a massive read. Like you I found it difficult to get oast the first hundred pages so I put it away read something lighter and went back to it. Once I tried the second time I found that for me it worked if I treated each chapter as a short story and didn't worry too much about getting through the book. Have to say once I was half way through I really, really got into it, the settings, the fantastic characters (not just the main ones but also the little sub characters that pop up throughout the story) and the whole magical and rather dark and dusty feel to it.
I'd certainly like to hear the audiobook, thanks for your review. :)

Mar. 1st, 2009 04:24 pm (UTC)
Reading each chapter like a short story? That's a really interesting way to approach this book.

And thanks :)
Mar. 1st, 2009 04:21 pm (UTC)
I loved this book too! It would be awesome to have as an audiobook for a long car journey or something.
Mar. 1st, 2009 04:26 pm (UTC)
It would have to be a very long journey , the audiobook is over 30 hours long!
Mar. 1st, 2009 04:34 pm (UTC)
Hahah! Well yes..maybe the car journey and throughout the stay at your destination. I've never really listened to audiobooks before but they would be pretty good for holidays
Mar. 1st, 2009 11:02 pm (UTC)
This is one of the best books I ever read, and it hooked me from the first page, somehow. I still have to take a read of The Ladies of Grace Adieu but first of all I want to re-read this book in English (since my native language is Swedish, I read it in Swedish as well).

Also looking forward the film adaptation which will be up on the screens in 2010!
Mar. 4th, 2009 02:12 am (UTC)
A film adaptation? I have no idea how they can fit the whole story into one movie...
( 28 comments — Leave a comment )

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