Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Review of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke (2004)


I simply cannot believe how good this book is! It strikes me as one of the very best novels I have ever read, and one which will change my life and the way I think about things.

I am also bewildered as to how I have missed it for the past eleven years - indeed, when I was on holiday I picked-up a copy three years ago and leafed through it; then replaced it on the shelf unread.

I can only assume that I was put-off by various off-putting aspects of the book's presentation to the reading public which rubbed me up the wrong way.

(Apparently, an extreme hype; endorsements by 'the usual suspects'; the fact that it seemingly emanated from the world of professional publishing - and was, therefore, likely to have been expertly crafted to impress.)

Well, I eventually got to read the book through watching the first episode of a BBC TV adaptation, currently running - and being caught-up, liking it very much (the episodes have since declined a bit) - found it running in my mind... I was on holiday in the country when I felt I could not delay reading it. I did not want to wait to buy a paper copy - so I obtained it on Kindle.

But whatever it was that delayed my engagement; I was wrong, wrong, wrong! This is a truly wonderful book - a labour of love, deep, wise, inspired - extremely well-written and constructed - absolutely fascinating, and (plot-wise) un-put-down-able.

I have been living in its imaginative world for the past week - and already things look different.

(And I haven't even yet read the extensive footnotes, which some people say is the best bit!)

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is in the 'fantasy' genre; about magic, magicians, fairies; set in the early 1800s (and written in a semi-pastiche of the style of that era); and in an England (a world) where there is the back-story of a 300 year period of the middle ages during which the North of England was ruled by the greatest-ever enchanter (a human stolen and reared by fairies) called The Raven King - whose capital was Newcastle (i.e. the city where I live!).

So, one way and another; there is another English genius - and her name is Susanna Clarke.