by Susanna Clarke
This book was an amazing read. And it felt immensely satisfying to finish it, because recently all the extra-long books I\’ve picked up have dragged on me and been abandoned. Not this one! Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell kept me intrigued and reading day after day, almost reluctant to finish the last chapters because I didn\’t want it to end!
It\’s set in an alternative version of 19th century England- a period in which the art of magic has languished for decades and become quite a disreputable occupation. Mr. Norrell, a quiet, scholarly, reclusive gentleman, determines that he alone can restore English magic to its former glory. He tries influencing government and high society with his opinions on magical issues, while at the same time squelching other magicians\’ aspirations and monopolizing the resources of magical books. Then along comes Jonathan Strange, a daring adventuresome man quite unlike Norrell, who seems to have a natural talent for magic and makes himself Norrell\’s pupil, later becoming more of a colleague and finally his worst rival. When one of them raises a woman from the dead, a malevolent fairy fixes his attention on them, and it quickly becomes apparent how little these esteemed men actually know about magic; they are only scratching the surface of things far more dangerous and mysterious than they can imagine. I loved how the fairy world was depicted, as existing side-by-side with England, accessible through mirrors and pools, shifting just under the surface of things, like a second skin. The plot is complex, introducing scores of characters and numerous little stories (many in the form of footnotes) that add flavor and flair to the main narrative. I found all these just as interesting as the main events, and lapped up all the rich details. This book feels as much a historical fiction novel (of a time period and style I don\’t usually read about, so maybe it\’s opening another door for me there) as it does an epic fantasy. I read about it on so many other blogs before coming across my own copy at a thrift store (fifty cents!) that I don\’t really know who to give credit for first sparking my interest in reading it. It\’s one of those listed below; if anyone else has read it and wants to pitch in their voice, I\’ll be glad to add your link- just let me know.
Rating: 4/5 …….. 782 pages, 2004