"Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell"
by Susanna Clarke
It has taken me a while to start writing this. I must admit that after I
finished reading JS&MrN I felt as if I was in an emotional vacuum; such
is the strength of this work.
I think that this book is going to win a lot of heavyweight prizes this
year - I know it's up for the Whitbread best debut prize. Anyway, I've
let the dust settle, and I can honestly say that this is the best
fantasy story I've ever read, and probably, the best book I've read in
It is written in the style of of the great Victorian novel e.g. in the
style of Jane Austen, actually it reminds me more of Thackeray's "Vanity
Fair" certainly in the manner of telling and some of the characters,
also because it is set in the same period i.e. during the reign of
George the third - he of the madness. However, although at war with
Buonaparte as was the case in reality, and having many recognisable
figures from history, the England of this novel is very different from
In this world, there exists a magical tradition, thoroughly respectable
which stretches back to the dark ages, dominated by the legendary, and
shadowy figure of John Uskglass-'The Raven King' - ruler of three realms
. At the beginning, magic has fallen into disuse and is a matter of
theory mostly. That is, until the appearance of Mr Norrell. Things soon
begin to change, reality becomes ever more eccentric and the story
spirals up towards a shattering climax.
Reminiscent of the "His Dark Materials" trilogy we are introduced to the
idea of parallel worlds, but where Susanna Clarke achieves a greater
success than Phillip Pullman , is in the quality and depth of the
characters which she builds for us. I think it is this, is which reminds
one of the 19th century greats. There is a really believable tapestry
woven of people who come in and out of the story as in real life. Each
character seems personal and motivated in an individual way to the
reader, and there really are a lot of them. In addition to this, there
are no red herrings in this book no idle occurrences or blind alleys of
coincidence designed to lend an air of richness; every happening is
thought out, every turn of plot leads you somewhere - and usually not
where you would expect it to. And there's a love story - of sorts.
This book is going to make you really feel; it's extreme and totally
satisfying. You won't want it to end, I know I didn't.
Best book for Xmas, get it in hard-back if you can, because it's going
to pass through many hands.