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Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrellby Susanna Clarke
Winner of the 2005 Hugo Award for Best Novel
I know you shouldn't recommend books that you are only halfway through, but this is such a lush tapestry of a book I can't resist. Like a moist rich chocolate torte, Strange and Norrell is the sort of book you ration out to avoid finishing it too soon. If you need more convincing, Neil Gaiman calls it, "unquestionably the finest English novel of the fantastic written in the last seventy years."
A fantasy book of manners? Yes, and it works! Original and clever, this lush novel comments on the society and culture of magic. Strange and Norrell have opposing viewpoints on magic's role, and their clash provides a fabulous backdrop for this wonderful book. Just read it! It's great.
"It may be just as well that Susanna Clarke's first novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, is nearly as big as a house, since this is the kind of book you want to move into and settle down in for a long stay. It's set in a world very much like the England of the early 1800s, only in Clarke's version magic was once a daily presence and has since been lost or perhaps merely misplaced. In other words, this world resembles the world of our own reading, for most of us can remember a time when stepping into a book was like entering into an enchantment....Susanna Clarke's magic is universal." Laura Miller, Salon.com (read the entire Salon.com review)
"The prospect of having to read an 800-page novel billed as 'Harry Potter for adults' was enough to make this weary book critic pine for an invisibility cloak. But for those of you who, like me, can't endure another charmless opening at the Dursleys', take heart: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is no Harry Potter knockoff. It's altogether original — far closer to Dickens than Rowling....Move over, little Harry. It's time for some real magic." Ron Charles, The Christian Science Monitor (read the entire Christian Science Monitor review)
Synopses & Reviews
English magicians were once the wonder of the known world, with fairy servants at their beck and call; they could command winds, mountains, and woods. But by the early 1800s they have long since lost the ability to perform magic. They can only write long, dull papers about it, while fairy servants are nothing but a fading memory.
But at Hurtfew Abbey in Yorkshire, the rich, reclusive Mr Norrell has assembled a wonderful library of lost and forgotten books from England's magical past and regained some of the powers of England's magicians. He goes to London and raises a beautiful young woman from the dead. Soon he is lending his help to the government in the war against Napoleon Bonaparte, creating ghostly fleets of rain-ships to confuse and alarm the French.
All goes well until a rival magician appears. Jonathan Strange is handsome, charming, and talkative — the very opposite of Mr Norrell. Strange thinks nothing of enduring the rigors of campaigning with Wellington's army and doing magic on battlefields. Astonished to find another practicing magician, Mr Norrell accepts Strange as a pupil. But it soon becomes clear that their ideas of what English magic ought to be are very different. For Mr Norrell, their power is something to be cautiously controlled, while Jonathan Strange will always be attracted to the wildest, most perilous forms of magic. He becomes fascinated by the ancient, shadowy figure of the Raven King, a child taken by fairies who became king of both England and Faerie, and the most legendary magician of all. Eventually Strange's heedless pursuit of long-forgotten magic threatens to destroy not only his partnership with Norrell, but everything that he holds dear.
Sophisticated, witty, and ingeniously convincing, Susanna Clarke's magisterial novel weaves magic into a flawlessly detailed vision of historical England. She has created a world so thoroughly enchanting that eight hundred pages leave readers longing for more.
"The drawing room social comedies of early 19th-century Britain are infused with the powerful forces of English folklore and fantasy in this extraordinary novel of two magicians who attempt to restore English magic in the age of Napoleon. In Clarke's world, gentlemen scholars pore over the magical history of England, which is dominated by the Raven King, a human who mastered magic from the lands of faerie. The study is purely theoretical until Mr. Norrell, a reclusive, mistrustful bookworm, reveals that he is capable of producing magic and becomes the toast of London society, while an impetuous young aristocrat named Jonathan Strange tumbles into the practice, too, and finds himself quickly mastering it. Though irritated by the reticent Norrell, Strange becomes the magician's first pupil, and the British government is soon using their skills. Mr. Strange serves under Wellington in the Napoleonic Wars (in a series of wonderful historical scenes), but afterward the younger magician finds himself unable to accept Norrell's restrictive views of magic's proper place and sets out to create a new age of magic by himself. Clarke manages to portray magic as both a believably complex and tedious labor, and an eerie world of signs and wonders where every object may have secret meaning. London politics and talking stones are portrayed with equal realism and seem indisputably part of the same England, as signs indicate that the Raven King may return. The chock-full, old-fashioned narrative (supplemented with deft footnotes to fill in the ignorant reader on incidents in magical history) may seem a bit stiff and mannered at first, but immersion in the mesmerizing story reveals its intimacy, humor and insight, and will enchant readers of fantasy and literary fiction alike. Agent, Jonny Geller. (Oct.) Forecast: A massive push by Bloomsbury has made this one of the most anticipated novels of the season. It's convenient to pigeonhole it as Harry Potter for grownups — and grown-up readers of J.K. Rowling will enjoy it — but its deep grounding in history gives it gravitas as well as readability. 200,000 first printing; rights sold in 14 countries." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Unquestionably the finest English novel of the fantastic written in the last seventy years. It's funny, moving, scary, otherworldly, practical and magical, a journey through light and shadow-from beginning to end, a perfect pleasure." Neil Gaiman, bestselling author of American Gods and The Graveyard Book
"An instant classic, one of the finest fantasies ever written." Kirkus Reviews
"Absolutely compelling...the author captures the period and its literary conventions with complete conviction. An astonishing achievement." Charles Palliser, author of The Quincunx and The Unburied
"Clarke's imagination is prodigious, her pacing is masterly and she knows how to employ dry humor....In this fantasy, the master that magic serves is reverence for writing." Gregory Maguire, The New York Times Book Review
"Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell may or may not be the finest English fantasy of the past 70 years. But it is still magnificent and original, and that should be enough for any of us." Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
"Clarke has written a 19th century classic; there's little doubt it will have readers clamoring for more." Rocky Mountain News
"What kind of magic can make a nearly 800-page novel seem too short?....[Clarke's] epic history of an alternative, magical England is so beautifully realized that not one of the many enchantments Clarke chronicles in the book could ever be as potent or as quickening as her own magnificent narrative." BookPage
"Clarke's ability to construct a fully imagined world...is impressive, and there are some suspenseful moments. But her attempt to graft a fantasy narrative onto such historical realities as the Battle of Waterloo is more often awkward than clever..." The New Yorker
"For all of her flights of postmodernist fancy, for all her stories about 'black towers' and magical books and hidden bridges that connect England to Faerie, Clarke has delivered a book of universal truths and unexpectedly heartbreaking acuity." Dallas-Ft. Worth Star Telegram
"Clarke has crafted a great, looping narrative filled with characters greater and lesser that will pique first the interest and then the sympathy of the reader....The readers will find that this tale, though long, comes to an end far too soon." Denver Post
"[I]mmense, intelligent, inventive, arid, and exhausting....Clarke is a restrained and witty writer with an arch and eminently readable style....Wholly original and richly imagined, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell turns out to be more admirable than lovable. (Grade: B)" Entertainment Weekly
"Strange lives up to all the enticing promise of Clarke's earlier work. Her deftly assumed faux-19th century point of view will beguile cynical adult readers into losing themselves in this entertaining and sophisticated fantasy." Seattle Times
"Clarke is marvelously clever — she could step right up there with J.K. Rowling. Her extensive, fictional footnotes are as amusing as they are informative....
About the Author
Susanna Clarke was born in Nottingham, England, in 1959, the eldest daughter of a Methodist minister. She was educated at St. Hilda's College, Oxford, and has worked in various areas of nonfiction publishing. In 1990 she left London to teach English in Turin and Bilbao. She returned to England in 1992 and spent the rest of that year in County Durham, where she began work on Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.
From 1993 to 2003 Susanna Clarke was an editor at Simon and Schuster's Cambridge office, where she worked on their cookbook list. She has published a number of short stories and novellas in American anthologies, including "Mr. Simonelli, or the Fairy Widower," which was shortlisted for a World Fantasy Award in 2001.
Susanna lives in Cambridge with her partner, the novelist and reviewer Colin Greenland.
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