Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (2004) – Susanna Clarke

 

I’d always been intrigued by the cover of this book, and the idea of magicians in England in the 19th century tweaked my interest as well. I was never put off by the rather gargantuan size of the book, I just knew I had to be in the right frame of mind to take it on. So now, in 2016, I was finally ready, and it was worth the wait (not to mention I can now dive into the BBC miniseries adaptation).

The book is expansive, a delight, filled with magic and sly humor. Proper English manners and behavior interweave with illusions and spells, as we are introduced to two magicians, the private, Mr. Norrell, who thinks he should be the only practicing magician in England, as he is the only one who is able to ‘understand’ it. And when he relents, his pupil, the impetuous, and passionate Jonathan Strange.

The two work together, pupil and master, until experiences, the war with the French, and their own differing opinions on magic drive them apart, and seemingly put them on opposite sides.

Wrapped up in the drama, are a wide cast of characters, a butler, Stephen Black, who alongside a Lady, and Stange’s wife, falls under the enchantment of a fairy gentleman, who seems a bit deluded if not downright crazy. There are gentlemen friends of Norrell, almost manipulative sycophants, Drawlight and Lascelles who use his magic to garner more fame and wealth for themselves, a street-sorcerer, Vinculus, who may be more than he seems, the mysterious Childermass and rumors of a long lost Raven King.

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Spanning a whopping 846 pages, the book reads like a traditional English novel, very Austen-esque reveling in its presentation of traditional English manners and class structure, consequently this provides as much pathos as it does humor.

It seems in the 1800s its all well and good to study magic, by reading books, but no one would be so crass and banal to actually practice it. But then Norrell comes along, and shakes things up, helping to restore magic to England, though he has some very strong opinions about what and what can’t be studied or known, and controlling all of the books on magic in the country, he has the last say. That is until Strange comes along.

It’s a very entertaining and wonderfully written novel, filled with footnotes to expand the story, and allowing the reader to get swept up in the lives of these characters that practice, and love those who practice, magic.

There are prophecies, courting, betrayals, war, friendships made and torn asunder with the magic of England at the heart of it, and I personally could not have thought of a better ending.

A wonderfully crafted tale, and I cannot wait to dive into the miniseries.

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