Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

 I did read Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. From end to end. Twice. That should be a suitable testimony to my powers of endurance, considering that I felt amazingly let-down first time around. Several publications chose debut author Susanna Clarke’s novel as their Book of the Year. Must have been a slow year for quality books.

Neither Strange nor Mr. Norrell are people that you can root for. One is a selfish bookworm who wants things his way. The other is a selfish man who thinks everyone else is below him or pompous. The use of magic is not clearly imagined. There are thousands of books on magic and no actual wizards. The thistle-downed fairy *ha ha* villian is too good. It takes over 600 pages for the heroes to even suspect that something may be amiss. Ah, yes, and the dreaded footnotes. Sometimes footnotes and research can add to a story, but here, they just get in the way.

Having said that, this is a book with amazingly droll wit. Strange’s letters about Lord Byron were the funniest thing I’ve encountered this side of the Discworld. Certainly, the characterization of the faerie as cruel and capricious beings comes straight out of Pratchett. The second reading was more rewarding, beause this time, I was not waiting for what-happens-next and could savor the dry humor in the conversations, and enjoy the manners of the Napoleanic era. I think it is ultimately a misrepresentation to classify this novel as belonging to the genre of high fantasy. The painstaking research and history gets in the way.

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4 Responses to “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell”

  1. You said:

    The second reading was more rewarding, beause this time, I was not waiting for what-happens-next and could savor the dry humor in the conversations, and enjoy the manners of the Napoleanic era.

    That is the beauty of re-reading something, isn’t it? You get to linger over your favorite parts, however,my hat is off to you for having the patience to read a book as voluminous as this one, twice!

  2. @ Lotus: yes, absolutely. the first time, i had it on hold and started with great excitement, but after wading through 500 pages, felt that the preceding 400 were unnecessary. i still thinks it meanders more than the average tome. the 2nd time around, i just stumbled upon it in the shelves and got it home and ended up lingering upon a turn of phrase, etcetra.

  3. You know, anocturne, you’ve got me interested in re-reading some of my favorite novels of all time. I recently read Madame Bovary for the third time (very unusual for me) and I hated it! Where once I thought Emma Bovary cut such a tragic and romantic figure, on my third reading, I thought she was just pitiful and immature. I think age has a lot to do with it. I must have been in my early 20’s when I read Mme. Bovary the first couple of times! 🙂

  4. so true. who was it who said that you can never go home? by the time you get back, you’ve changed so much that home is never the same place you left. espeically true of books too, i’ve felt.

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