Sunday, January 04, 2009

2. "Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell" - Susanna Clarke

This book has been called fantasy, alternate history, and science fiction, but at its heart is the simple story of two English magicians who have very different beliefs in how magic should be conducted in the early 1800s.

Mr. Norrell fosters knowledge, feasting upon thousands of archaic books about magic. He believes all magic can be learned from books, yet he does not share his library with anyone except his servant.

Jonathan Strange, on the other hand, believes that the only way to understand magic is to practice it. As Mr. Norrell's pupil, he becomes frustrated, and eventually leaves to begin binding spells and creating his own incantations. This makes Norrell furious.

Add in a nasty faerie who manipulates both magicians, and the book becomes an 800-plus tome that uses names and places from the time (Lord Byron, for example) and well as footnotes from fictitious sources.

Many critics believe that this is the best fantasy book (geared toward adults - geez, we don't want to piss off the Potter-lovers) to come from England in decades. Perhaps. It's not my specialty. But, as a reader, I would drop this heavy book whenever something new and shiny came within armslength. I could always pick it up again and blend back into the narrative. The first is negative, the second is positive, so I'm reluctant to pick a side. It may be easiest to state that this novel is memorable, yet disposable.

I'm glad I finally finished it after an on and off affair of eight months.

3.5 out of 5.0 Black Magics.


Anonymous said...

You wrote an interesting review. It's almost refreshing to see after everyone has reviewed it so positively. I have it on my TBR pile for this coming year, so I'm anxious to see how I like it! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I felt the same way, although, admittedly, I haven't finished it yet. I definitely like the more subtle use of magic (especially in the early part of the book), rather than the super-spectacular magic in the Potter series.

At the same time: I'm pretty sure I could live without reaching the end, but also, I get unnatural urges late at night to pick it up and read a chapter or two.

I work at a Barnes & Noble and I noticed that this book is now on bargain, for about $5. Even with all the rave reviews, perhaps many share the same opinion that we do.

Kristin Dodge said...

Hmm... I wish I had bought it on sale.

I believe the first 200 and last 200 pages are the best. There was definitely room for editing in the middle. Magic and wars? It didn't need several chapters.

Special K said...

I tried to read that book but I just couldn't get through it. I thought I was going to love it, but it didn't engage me.

Laura said...

This is a book that I have thought about reading, now I'm not so sure. I am not too interested in science fiction. I liked Harry Potter, but it drew me in right away and I didn't want to put it down. Thanks for your honest review.

Unsay Moon said...

I checked this book out from the library, but it requires quite a time commitment, something that one lacks as a full-time student. I'm assured in reading your review that, some day, maybe it will be worth attempting.

Oh, and I envy the fact that you find time to read so many books... :)

-Unsay Moon