Saturday, June 21, 2008

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

This book was one of those that makes you wonder if the people who made it a best-seller actually read it. I enjoyed the book myself, but it takes practically half of the one thousand pages in order to actually get into the story. If I wasn't someone who was interested in this sort of fantasy, I would have put it down long before that. As it was, I gave it a chance, because it still kept me reading, and eventually I got into it.
The story takes place in England, in the first decades of the 19th century. Magic is something that is discussed theoretically by gentleman, but not something that is actually practiced in any way. The practice of it is even seen as somewhat vulgar. However, there is one man who has been practicing magic, although he is rather cantankerous, and does not associate with others. So it takes some convincing for this man, Mr. Norrell, to come out of his manor, move to London, and begin practicing magic in the public eye. The publicity he gains does nothing to improve his personality, and he is not well liked or understood. Jonathan Strange is the first man to come along who Mr. Norrell takes a genuine liking to, as a fellow magician. Their relationship begins as that of tutor and pupil, but becomes a rivalry after a few years, as their views on magic differ greatly. Their rivalry is the majority of the story, in addition to the plotline of the fairy who has enchanted a lady and her servant. Strange must eventually solve the riddle of this enchantment, as his wife becomes caught up in it as well.
The story gets very interesting once it gets through the first few years of Strange and Norrell's acquaintance. Before that, it is like reading Dickens, where you are just waiting to find out what the story is actually going to be about, and wondering when it will really begin. Clarke's writing is obviously very detailed, and she does an excellent job of bringing forth the time period in which the story takes place. The book ends well, and leaves open the future of English magic, and of her celebrated magicians, for either the reader to imagine, or perhaps for the writer to expand upon in a later volume.

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