Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell – Susanna Clarke

The fact that this is Susanna Clarke’s debut novel is astounding, as a debut it’s quite the feat. An ambitious tomb of a book, it’s not only long but intricate with worlds within worlds and its own rich history. The story follows Mr Norrell as he moves from Yorkshire to London and becomes London’s (England’s even) greatest (if not only) magician. Soon Mr Strange joins the story as he becomes Norrell’s pupil. We follow the two magicians and an array of other characters as the world around them slowly changes, when magic returns to England. The story takes place in the 1800s and as such is filled with stoutly looking gentlemen and ladies, gothic mansions, and balls. For any fan of historical fiction, fantasy fiction, or both – this is a book worth checking out.

As I said Clarke spends a great deal of time building up not only a world but a history along with it. This is done well enough but what makes it unusual is her use of footnotes – it is as though the entire book is a textbook, and where spells and magical historial incidents are mentioned in the story they are often explained extensively in footnotes. It is something I’ve never quite stumbled upon before, as such it adds an interesting elemtent to the book. However, this same technique disrupts the flow of the story as one is forced to read them and then go back into the “now”. It happens so often it becomes slightly tedious to read through, and at times quite dull.

The book as a whole is interesting and unusual, but as for the reading experience I felt myself grow tired of characters, of events waiting to happen but mentioned frequently until the element of surprise was taken away, and as I said I started to find the history tedious and dull – this was mostly the case during the last third or so of the book. I suppose the reason has mostly to do with the length of the novel, being as pointed out a tomb of a book. It could probably have been shortened down somewhat.

It is still worth checking out especially if one likes historical fiction, fantasy, or both but bear in mind that this is a rather slow going type of story which might not suit everyone’s fancy.


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