Rosalind Reading, June 10, 2013 (view all comments by Rosalind Reading)
If Jane Austen and Gabriel Garcia Marquez had a strange, charismatic, and loquacious child, it would be Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. This novel has Austen's dry wit, Marquez's wild imagination and magic realism, and something else entirely its own. Here is a Britain at war with Napoleon's empire aided by two magicians: the ornery, traditional Mr. Norrell, and the lanky, charming, and rather dangerously daring Jonathan Strange. Packed with hilarious footnotes, fairy lore that conjures up barrows of ancient Britain, and killer one-liners, this novel earns every one of its (many, many) pages.
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danb, January 31, 2013 (view all comments by danb)
I sometimes reread books, but never the very day I finish them. But this terrific, surprising, absorbing novel made me do it. I just wasn't ready to be done with these characters, who have a Dickensian fullness (and fabulous, often hilarious dialogue). Great, great, great.
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Constant Reader, August 25, 2010 (view all comments by Constant Reader)
If you can imagine Dickens writing fantasy, that's what this book is like. Clarke has truly immersed herself in the early 19th century to create a perfect atmosphere for her novel, in which the practice of magic is a trade like any other. One of the title characters, Mr. Norrell, makes a name for himself, first in York, then in London, as a skilled magician who helps the government fight the French. Jonathan Strange, a younger man who chooses the profession of magic, and finds himself so adept at it that he becomes Mr. Norrell's pupil and, eventually, his rival. Ranging from England to Spain to Italy, taking in parts of a country called Faerie, and mentioning a land that lies on the far side of Hell, the book is consistently gripping. Parts of it had me gasping with delight at the plot twists. I was also pleased by the names of some of the characters, which are also reminiscent of Dickens' names: Greysteel, Childermass, Uskglass, Drawlight. I can even forgive Clarke for including real historical figures (such as King George III and the Duke of Wellington) in her narrative, something I do only rarely. This book is almost a thousand pages long, and the interest never wavers.
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nancyduck, January 3, 2010 (view all comments by nancyduck)
This story is immensly intriguing and mysterious. It's a novel that's one part cat & mouse--and one part, other world, scary--and, still other parts transcend reality. Plus, the characters are so well-realized, they become a part of our world. The reader has the pleasure and horror to journey through myriad magical worlds, both surreal and delightful...and horrific. It is fantasy at it's best!
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.
"Publishers Weekly Review"
by Publishers Weekly,
"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.)
"Review A Day"
by Laura Miller, Salon.com,
"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." (read the entire Salon.com review)
"Review A Day"
by Ron Charles, The Christian Science Monitor,
"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." (read the entire Christian Science Monitor review)
by Neil Gaiman, bestselling author of American Gods and The Graveyard Book,
"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."
by Kirkus Reviews,
"An instant classic, one of the finest fantasies ever written."
by Charles Palliser, author of The Quincunx and The Unburied,
"Absolutely compelling...the author captures the period and its literary conventions with complete conviction. An astonishing achievement."
by Gregory Maguire, The New York Times Book Review,
"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."
by Michael Dirda, The Washington Post,
"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."
by Rocky Mountain News,
"Clarke has written a 19th century classic; there's little doubt it will have readers clamoring for more."
"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."
by The New Yorker,
"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..."
by Dallas-Ft. Worth Star Telegram,
"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."
by Denver Post,
"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."
by Entertainment Weekly,
"[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)"
by Seattle Times,
"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."
by Detroit Free Press,
"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....[S]plendid reading..."
The international bestseller, finally in paperback!
Time magazines #1 book of the year • 11 weeks and counting on the New York Times bestseller list • Shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award • Longlisted for the Booker prize • A Book Sense pick • People Top Ten Books of the year • Salon.com Top Ten of 2004 • New York Times Notable Books of the Year • Christian Science Monitor Best Fiction 2004 • Nancy Pearls Top 12 Books of 2004 • Washington PostBook World Best of 2004 • San Francisco Chronicle Best Books of 2004 • Chicago Tribune Best of 2004 • Seattle Times 25 Best Books of 2004 • Atlanta Journal-Constitution Top 12 Books of 2004 • Village Voice “Top Shelf” • Raleigh News & Observer Best of 2004 • Rocky Mountain News critics favorites of 2004• Kansas City Star 100 Noteworthy Books of 2004 • Fort Worth Star-Telegram 10 Best Books of 2004 • Hartford Courant Best Books of 2004
Susanna Clarkes brilliant first novel is an utterly compelling epic tale of nineteenth-century England and the two very different magicians who, as teacher and pupil and then as rivals, emerge to change its history. Sold in 21 languages, with a major motion picture from New Line on the way, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is a tour de force that has captured the imagination of readers worldwide.
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