Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

I thought long and hard about how I wanted to finish 2015 on the blog. Round up the year in books? Did that last year. Bookish resolutions? I’ve got plenty. I had a whole bunch of ideas but in the end I decided to go for one final review of a book that has enchanted me for months. 

I decided I had to read this novel after enjoying the fantastic BBC adaptation earlier this year. It starred Bertie Carvel as Jonathan Strange (swoon) and Eddie Marsan who played Mr Norrell brilliantly. 

Loving the adaptation doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to be the same for the book, but actually I think I ended up enjoying the book more. It helped having an idea of the characters in my head already but in its own right the book is a stunning magical tale of epic proportions. 

Set in the early 1800s, England is at war with Napoleon and the work of magic is something studied in books and not practiced. When a practising magician is found in Yorkshire, he is summoned to London to help the government in the war effort. Mr Norrell is fussy, reclusive and very set in his ways and is put out of place with the emergence of a second magician in England, the charming novice Jonathan Strange. 

They end up working together although they are the very opposites of each other and often disagree about most subjects. The reawakening of English magic has effects across the country and they touch the lives in strange and mysterious ways of everyone around them. There are lots of main characters aside from the two magicians who have their own stories thoroughly explored, and many more offshoots all interweaving together in this wide reaching tale. 

This book is very long. It’s about 1000 pages (give or take due to the illustrations in my copy) and alongside the story there are footnotes of little historical / magical details or side stories. This adds plenty more onto the reading time but I devoured every sentence, every page and every footnote, enjoying every word. 

I loved how this parallel version of history was played out with a great sense of the time but also with all the magical realism that makes the book so interesting. Magic here is an art, a scholarly subject or a weapon, depending on who is wielding it, and I loved the idea of the world of fairies being so closely linked to that of human England. 

The language suits the time period; it’s so elegant and charming, with dashes of humour, darkness or drama in all the right places. As this book was so big, I read a chapter or two every now and again in between my other reads and each time it was like being transported back to another new yet familiar world full of memorable characters. 

I think if you enjoy books that break genre boundaries then this is a novel well worth the time to invest in. Lyrical, imaginative, detailed and so enchanting, this is a book is every bit as magic as the people and events it portrays.

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