Saturday, May 29, 2010

Girl on Book Action: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
ISBN: 0-765-35615-5


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.


My Thoughts:

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I was complaining about this book when I was around the half-way point. I felt it was dreadfully dull and I was bored to the point of taking my frustrations with the narrative to everyone’s favourite venue for complaints. Many people advised me to just give up, because it didn’t get better and I received many responses of how far people got before they decided that this book just wasn’t worth it anymore. Admittedly, it’s a tome. The paperback is 1006 pages long. However, I rarely stop reading a book, and especially not if I’ve devoted myself to reading 500 pages already. So, being the stubborn bibliophile that I am, I kept reading and hoping and I got a reward. Believe it or not, the book got better and I was interested again at around page 600. It was all fairly interesting from there on.

Here I am a paragraph in and I haven’t said anything about the content of the novel. You might be wondering what it is that would make people first begin reading such a book and then give up partway through. Well, let me tell you!

There are magicians, faeries, corrupt lordlings and hangers-on, various damsels in distress and some drawn-out character building sections. Up until that last one you’re probably thinking this is going to be a great rollicking adventure! Sadly, the tedious character building sections tend to detract from the parts of the story that I thought were interesting – mainly the sections dealing with Faerie and enchantments and the damsels in distress. It was a frustrating book in some respects.

I do have to say that I admire Clarke’s imagination and the research that must have gone into writing this novel. As much as I was at times bored, the novel was carefully constructed and while I didn’t enjoy all of its parts I really can’t say where she could have cut anything to pick up the pace. The pacing issue was especially noticeable in the middle section where the story seemed to drag a little. Everything that happened was important for the development of the characters and the furthering of the over-arching story. What I wanted to know more about was Faerie and faeries and enchantments, not two blundering magicians making things worse rather than better with their fumbling around. All this means is that Clarke made Faerie seem really interesting, more interesting than her main characters for some parts of the book (mainly that whole long section where Strange is in Spain, so boring). Anyway, overall, her work is impressive, though definitely not to everyone’s taste.

Lastly, let me admit that Norrell’s desire to keep his books safe and locked away struck an uncomfortable chord with me. While I do lend books to a few select people, at times it is an effort to let them go off into the world and I don’t lend out books that are difficult to come by for the most part. Mr Norrell keeps his books close because he doesn’t want anyone else to have the knowledge in them, which I suppose is understandable. The description of the first time he has to hand over a book to Strange was really moving for me, a fact that probably points to my unhealthy attachment to these objects filled with words.


  1. I commend you for getting through 1006 pages of book that was boring for the most part...I don't think I've ever managed that lol.