Book: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
Susanna Clarke
2004

This was a very good book. It didn’t focus on the plot, although there was one, but rather on the various characters in the story and how they reacted to and influenced everything going on around them. The world that the story took place in was wonderful, very fleshed out (down to legends and forgotten folk tales) and as a result it felt delightfully three-dimensional. The characters were also very well done. They felt like very real people with real wants, fears, and reactions. Their interactions with each other were shown beautifully. It was a pleasure to read about them!

The way Clarke dealt with magic was fascinating. She focused on the importance of study and understanding what came before for much of the book, but then also stressed the shortcomings of such an approach. She set up a very real debate between simple study and actual practice of magic, giving each reasonable strengths and weaknesses. It was very interesting and that debate (which was very central to the story) was perhaps the most interesting part of the whole story.

I also found Mr. Norrell’s refusal to share magic with anyone, and the various issued raised by that, very interesting. His attempts to legally refuse anyone access to any books on magic and his near hysteria whenever any kind of magical text became remotely available to anyone else were an interesting touch to the story and his character. He really did feel like a stubborn old professor high in a tower hoarding knowledge!

Strange was and interesting character as well. The portrait Clarke paints of him as a somewhat fashionable young magician was appealing, but made it sometimes hard to trust him. This worked wonderfully as a counterpoint to Mr. Norrell. Arabella Strange, Mr. Strange’s wife, was another wonderful character. She felt very real and very much like someone I would want as a friend. Her patience with her husband was truly astonishing sometimes, but never felt too strained.

In general, I really enjoyed this book. It’s huge, and I found that bothersome at first, but the style and length of the story feel perfect once you get into it. It also never felt long, it was always fun to sit down and read. I recommend this book, but only to those with patience and arm strength!

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