Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

I loved this novel. It's deliciously full of beautiful writing, clever details, deep characters, fun things to recognize from other works about the early nineteenth century, and an astonishingly self-consistent set of references to a whole body of literature which does not exist. It's like a combination of Jane Austen and modern sf/fantasy, very serious on the surface, but full of sly details.

But - that doesn't necessarily mean that you will like it, too. My husband said he found it a hard slog to get through. My twelve-year-old son did not finish it. I think it's sad that they've missed the wonderful stories of how Jonathan Strange helped the Duke of Wellington fight Napoleon, or what the fate of Stephen Black, the perfect butler, turned out to be. If you find a book to be just too much work, though, you're bound to miss out on all the fun.

This is a book for people who read quickly, and who have read widely enough to catch many allusions and take pleasure in them. It also helps to have read a number of Regency romances in one's youth. Although it is certainly fantasy in that magic does work, for some of the characters in the book, it is much closer to Georgette Heyer than to JRR Tolkien.

Because this is a huge work, creating a whole new world (though one which has a great deal of history in common with ours), it has been compared many times to Harry Potter. In some ways it is far better written, but only if you like it. It's not a galloping fun story, it's not a children's book, and it's not slapstick. It's actually literature. It's very long, too, which is a fine thing when you are enjoying it hugely, but not if it's just not your sort of thing. Harry Potter, as a children's book, is accessible to nearly everyone. There are special pleasures to be had from less accessible books, but they should not be pushed upon everyone.

Posted: Sat - October 9, 2004 at 04:32 PM   weblog:   category:
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