About the Author:
Susanna Clarke lives in Cambridge. Her first novel was published in 2004.
AVERAGE REVIEW SCORE:
4 out of 5
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
This is without a doubt the most original fantasy concept in years. The book is written in the style of the great 19th Century fiction, even going so far as to misspell words in the idiom of the time. But the story is unlike anything the authors of the time would think to write. It is the story of two men whose aim it is to return magic to England. The first is Mr Norrell, a man obsessed with books and jealous of his secrets, and the second is Jonathan Strange, who takes risks heedless of consequences in his desire to learn. The counterpoint between the two men is the most important theme of the book and adds an enduring tension and makes for an excellent pay-off as they combine their disparate skills at the end.
Clarke creates an entire alternative history for England in which a powerful magician known as the Raven King ruled the north of the country in medieval times only to disappear and bring about the decline of 'English magic'; a combination of fairy magic and English reason. This extensive backstory is told through footnotes throughout the book and adds a backdrop against which the story of Strange and Norrell is set. I really enjoyed the depiction of the magic in the story, be it the wonderous description of the ancient talking statues in York cathedral or the sinister decay of the Kingdom of Lost-Hope.
Clarke manages to combine interesting, if occasionally detestable, characters, a sense of wonder and discovery, humour (I particularly enjoyed it when Strange, having taken a dose of bottled madness, believes Venice is packed to bursting with pineapples) and romance. The latter element is very well used, particularly as Strange takes more and more desperate measures to recover Arabella until, at the end, it is just the sort of bittersweet scene you could expect.
History buffs will also finds things for them here as the story encompasses such events as the Battle of Waterloo ("Depend upon it, there is no such place") and the famous gathering in Geneva that spawned 'Frankenstein' in the mind of a young woman who was there and such recognisable characters as Wellington, Lord Byron and Mad King George.
I only really have one criticism of the book and that is that very often it has the failing that (like most 19th Century fiction) it becomes very ponderous, lacking the pace to keep you enthralled. This may well be a deliberate element, but it's caused me to deduct a point from its rating. Basically, not one for the action fans, but everyone else should give it a try.
4 out of 5