Let me start off by saying that I believe that I have won the award for longest book read on BGB to date……At a mere 846 pages – Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke was a huge investment of my time and I must say that it was worth it.
There were definitely times (at about page 650) that I thought I would never get through the tome but I was too immersed in the world of English magic during the years 1806-1817 to give it up. I would definitely characterize this book as Harry Potter for adults but what’s interesting is that I was not a huge Harry Potter fan and in fact, magic does not really interest me at all (unlike my husband who is obsessed with the show on A&E – Criss Angel’s Mindfreak) yet I still really enjoyed it. [more after the jump]
The book centers around 2 main characters – Mr. Norrell who is a theoretical magician, i.e. he has read and studied every book about magic and is the most knowledgable in all of England and Jonathan Strange – who begins the book as Mr. Norrell’s pupil but then goes on to become a practical magician. The two magicians of course must part ways because Strange is dabbling in “black” magic and getting deeper involved with faeries and all things in the otherworld. What is so fascinating about this book is that Clarke wrote it in a non-fiction style and there are footnotes throughout the entire book referring to fictional characters/books in history. The most notable of which is the Raven King who apparently ruled Northern England for hundreds of years and was the most powerful magician in all of history. We are entertained throughout the novel with snippets of British life in the 1800’s, the Napoleonic wars, life in Venice, how the aristocracy lived, etc. The writing style, attitudes and language are very British which made the book that much more endearing. Clarke goes into such descriptive details about “otherworlds” which is where faeries live that I almost came to believe that maybe there are other “worlds” that do exist. Her imaginative uses of magic such as creating a naval fleet out of rain to outsmart Napoleon, bringing back the dead, magic spells and potions were all just fascinating. She also has many twists throughout the book so it captured by attention right up until the ending.
I do think that some editing could have lopped off about 100 pages particularly in the beginning when there was so much storyline centered around Mr. Norrell and his friends who were really quite boring characters. That aside – if you like fantasy and magic or just feel like reading a different kind of book – make the investment.