Wednesday 11 September 2013

Clarke, Susanna "Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell"

Clarke, Susanna "Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell" - 2004

"Two magicians shall appear in England. The first shall fear me; the second shall long to behold me Centuries ago, when magic still existed in England, the greatest magician of them all was the Raven King."

If I said about me that I am not exactly the biggest fan of fantasy, that would be a huge understatement. I used to like fairy tales as a child and am still quite fond of them but that's about it.

When the online "Chunky Book Club" put this title on their list, I wasn't too sure whether I shouldn't even skip this one. But, my son already had it on his shelf (he loves fantasy) and therefore I thought, what harm can it do, I can always put it aside. But - even though I wouldn't declare it my most favourite book of the year - I carried on reading it, all 1,024 pages of it.

It is a lot more a Grimm's fairy tale with a little bit of Victoriana mixed in than a JRR Tolkien kind of fantasy novel. It is also more an alternate history book with a lot of links to non-existing literature. It almost feels like a Dickens novel. Quite entertaining, actually.

Two magicians want to bring back magic to England. We meet historical figures like the Duke of Wellington or Lord Byron as well as some illustrious fictional inhabitants of fairieland. We can read a lot of quotes from the books about Magic that have presumably been written by either of the two protagonists or other magician characters from the book. I would have wished them to be printed at least as large as the rest as there are a lot of quotes, sometimes they contain whole stories by itself.

As in so many fantasy books, the main theme is the fight between good and evil, who will win the big battle?

In any case, as a fan of England, I was not disappointed with the book, even though this is not my favourite genre and never will be. But Susanna Clarke has an interesting writing style, I will look into her other writing, as well.

The book received a lot of prizes and nominations, i.a. it was longlisted for the Booker Prize in 2004.

From the back cover: "The year is 1806. England is beleaguered by the long war with Napoleon, and centuries have passed since practical magicians faded into the nation's past. But scholars of this glorious history discover that one remains: the reclusive Mr. Norrell whose displays of magic send a thrill through the country. Proceeding to London, he raises a beautiful woman from the dead and summons an army of ghostly ships to terrify the French. Yet the cautious, fussy Norrell is challenged by the emergence of another magician: the brilliant novice Jonathan Strange. Young, handsome and daring, Strange is the very opposite of Norrell. So begins a dangerous battle between these two great men which overwhelms the one between England and France. And their own obsessions and secret dabblings with the dark arts are going to cause more trouble than they can imagine."


  1. I am a big fan of fantasy and science fiction, but I could not get into this book at all, after reading your recommendation perhaps I'll give it another go.

  2. It is not a typical fantasy story, maybe that's why I like it and you didn't? You might want to read the comments on the Chunky Book Club Reading Challenge page in a couple of days, we are due to start commenting on 13 September, there will be other comments.

    If you generally like the same books as I do, maybe better check out my List of favourite books.