My twenty eighth book of the year is the much ballyhooed, Hugo Award winning doorstopper, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell : A Novel
by Susanna Clarke
I really, really wanted to like this book. Two British magicians preside over a renaissance of magic in England in the early 19th century. I had visions of Crowley and Powers, and plowed into this book, even though a friend of mine couldn’t get past the first couple of hundred pages.
Sheer determination pushed me through.
Don’t get me wrong. There are many fine qualities in this book. I understood, about halfway through, just what Clarke was doing–she was writing a Book of Magic similar to one of the many which are referenced within the book itself. But at 800 pages of a distressingly linear narrative, the book is not more than the sum of the good parts.
Interesting ancedotes and side diversions sometimes work, and sometimes create a labyrinth of text for the reader. There are pages here which are taken up by small font footnote more than actual text. The descriptions of magic and of Faerie are good, once real magic starts to happen and we get a glimpse of Faerie. But all of that good stuf is a thin vein of gold and silver in a lot of rock. There are large areas of desolation where not a lot happens, and pushing through those parts was a chore.
The main characters, too, are a problem. Mr Norrell is not very likeable. Misanthropic, in love with books so much that he will stoop to anything to acquire them and keep them from others, and Mr Strange is reckless and not entirely believeable either. The central problem of the book, too, the restoration of English magic, is not resolved to my satisfaction either. Norrell and Strange both do great feats of magic, some of them rather easily–so why have there been no practical magicians in centuries? I didn’t like how certain historical characters were portrayed, either, I felt their personalities did not match what I knew of them.
I can’t in all good conscience recommend the book. The rewards within the 800 pages do not match the effort required to obtain them, IMO. While there are bits I might steal for characters and games, I would be sadistic to recommend to my gamer friends to persist with a book that, for considerable stretches, is tedious and dare I say, dull.