Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell


Genre: Fantasy, Alternative Historical Fiction
Setting: 19th century England and Europe
Pages: 1006

Magic has returned to England in this novel, spurred on by the determined will of two magicians who hold very different opinions on what English magic should look like.

The Good: This novel is deeply imaginative and despite its mammoth volume it maintains relatively quick pacing. There is no dearth of British humor in this book and the various ironies throughout provide endless enjoyment to the reader. I was particularly enchanted by the alternate history that Susanna Clarke created detailing the history of English magic, and the use of footnotes to provide this background to the reader is both clever and charming. This book was fun to read and brings a particularly unique view on the practice of magic. It was also good enough to be turned into a BBC series that aired in 2015. I have not watched this yet, but I am definitely going to check it out.

The Bad: Despite the quick pacing, 1000 pages is excessive. There are plenty of moments in this novel that seem to lead nowhere or could have been cut out entirely. Authors need to ask themselves whether what they are writing serves the story, and if not that is a good sign that material should go. I found out after reading that Clarke wrote the novel in a very fragmented manner and then just sort of stitched together all the sections at the end. She says she was writing for herself and not the audience. I can understand this point of view, but the result is obvious so just be prepared for that when you go to read the novel. I also wish some of the characters had been a little more fleshed out considering within 1000 pages she had plenty of room to do so. The work has been compared to Jane Austen’s writing in its dealing with social comedy and this is perhaps where that slight barrier between the reader and the characters occurs, as Austen’s work has a similar quality of maintaining a slight distance between reader and story.

Would recommend? I would! For those of you who are able to stick to a long story it is definitely worth the read. For those of you who think you might be able to but are unsure: try it out! As I mentioned before it doesn’t feel as long as it is, and you might be surprised by how much you like it.

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