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Book Review: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Book Review - Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell magnify

What if magic was real, and enjoyed a long tradition? And what if magicians only studied magical history and not magical practice? Then, what if someone discovered the practice of magic again, and brought it back?

This hefty tome by Susanna Clarke explores those ideas, as well as the arrogance and failings of hubris.  It’s not a classic good vs. evil story, which is really what I expected when I bought this book at an airport (for the 800 pages of light reading).  It’s conflict of the establishment against progress, of innovation versus convention, of the young and the old both grasping for a valid place in the world.

It takes place in early 19th century England, primarily in London although there are forays to the countryside as well as to the French battlefield when Napoleon becomes a nuisance.  The author wrote in what she deemed the period style, but it was much more easily readable than, say, even Victorian (shudder) literature.  She was quite liberal with commas, which certainly lent a degree of credulity to the period writing style.  She also used footnotes throughout the book, and if I were the sort of person annoyed by footnotes, I suppose they would have annoyed me.  But since I’m the sort of person who uses a second bookmark to keep up with even endnotes, and I kind of enjoy flipping back and forth (it burns more calories)I found the footnotes to be a humorous way to give the reader “background” without sacrificing the pace of the story.

The pace of any story that takes 800 pages to tell will occasionally drag.  I really didn’t find that to be the case with this book, though, until very near the end, when poor Jonathan Strange spent entirely too much time in Italy and not nearly enough time arguing with Mr. Norrell.  I liked their conflicts.

I gave the book to my mom to read.  I figured with her science fiction/fantasy inclinations she’d really enjoy it.  Shows how much I know!  She struggled through it to please me, but the last 100 pages never got read.  How she could have left the story before it was resolved, I will never understand!  But she got bogged down in Venice and just had to extricate herself before she suffocated, I think.   Oh, well.  Thanks, Mom, for trying.  Now I really wish I knew someone else who had read the book so I could talk about it without giving away the many significant plot twists!

August 3, 2006 - Posted by | Book Reviews

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