Review: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell
Title: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Author: Susanna Clarke
Genre: Fantasy, historical fiction
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Goodreads Summary:At the dawn of the nineteenth century, two very different magicians emerge to change England's history. In the year 1806, with the Napoleonic Wars raging on land and sea, most people believe magic to be long dead in England--until the reclusive Mr Norrell reveals his powers, and becomes a celebrity overnight.
Soon, another practicing magician comes forth: the young, handsome, and daring Jonathan Strange. He becomes Norrell's student, and they join forces in the war against France. But Strange is increasingly drawn to the wildest, most perilous forms of magic, straining his partnership with Norrell, and putting at risk everything else he holds dear.
This book was almost painfully slow at first but once it started to pick up, I really enjoyed it! Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is unlike any other fantasy book I've read. It's odd because it's not quite historical fiction because there's too much magic but it's not really a typical fantasy novel because it's so rooted in daily life and the real world. I have definitely never read any other book like it, and I really enjoyed this!
I have to say the first 200 pages or so were quite slow. The beginning sets up the world: 19th century England, a world with no magic users but plenty of magicians who study magic (biologists don't create biology, they simply study it. Why should magicians be any different?). That sort of tongue in cheek wit and dry humor is very pervasive in this book, especially in the hundreds of footnotes.
Mr. Norrell and Jonathan Strange are the two practical magicians who actually know how to use magic. They have such different personalities and outlooks on why they pursue magic and what they use it for. Norrell is a bookish man who seems to really hate interacting with other human beings, while Jonathan is a far more charismatic magician who isn't shy about extravagant displays of power. But these two aren't the only two players in this story. I loved the subplot about Stephen and the mysterious flax-haired stranger, as well as Vinculus and Childermass. My favorite characters were Childermass, Stephen, and Arabella.
Aside from being witty and very true to Dickensian era books, this book was beautifully written and hypnotic. I was frankly bored through the first 200 pages but the plot and my emotional investment in the characters increased exponentially as the book went on. The climax was truly terrifying, and there were so many moments where I couldn't help but admire the beautiful words with which Clarke made me feel such horror and terror.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and definitely recommend it! I just started watching the BBC adaptation, and it's absolutely pitch perfect. The characters were cast perfectly and it has just the right dry sense of humor and wit of the book without as much of the tediousness at the beginning. I definitely recommend the adaptation as well!