Saturday, August 06, 2005

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell
I just finished Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. It's taken me quite some time to finish the 782-pages tale of English magic, English magicians and whole lot more of just plain English. I'm now all Englished out. Clarke's novel is set in the late nineteenth century, and follows the adventures of one Mr. Norrell, a boring, bookish, selfish and very British, magician, and his quite different pupil, Jonathan Strange -- who grows beyond his master and eventually becomes a rival. I won't dwell to much on the story, as summaries are available online. The story is an enticing one, and has garnered comparisons with J.K. Rowling -- although that seems to be more from people who haven't read Clarke's novel, because the comparisons couldn't be more wrong. Rowling is entertaining -- Clarke on the other hand has a good story on her hands, but goes on to suffer the reader with her Jane Austen imitative. In fact, Clarke's writing has more in common with Austen's than it does with Rowling. If you happen to think Austen is a bore, then you won't want to pick this novel up.

I think Austen is a bore, and so I suffered through Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. The story was encased in the plodding details of English society and norms. Clarke has a fascination with the English language, English society and bringing characters to life. As painful as her character development was -- and the endless footnotes on quite unremarkable facets of magic -- her characters do come to life. She succeeds in getting the readers into their heads. I stayed with the book however, because the story was good. Towards the end I could hardly put it down, as Clarke took her reader plummeting to the conclusion. After the slow, plodding story, the pace at which it was concluded was refreshing -- although it left me wanting, as Clarke no longer shared what was happening within her characters heads.

Read this book at your own risk. It's not an easy read, and requires quite a bit of patience. It could have been cut down quite a bit and still be just as effective. The book is already being adapted for the silver screen, so expect it in theatres in a few years. Don't expect it to be Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings however, English society of the late nineteenth century is way too dour for such action.


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