Thursday, 19 April 2007

tolerably well.

Excellenté! This one is a good one.

Another recommendation from my brother; my only problem with this book was that it was needlessly long (over 1000 pages) and therefore a little physically unwieldy - although the length is in keeping with the style, and I didn't at any point get bored.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is the story of two 19th century magicians who bring magic back to England. It's one of those books where everything is realistic except those things which are not. In this book, for example, it's typical early 1800s, and events feature like the Battle of Waterloo (real), but there's magic (not real). I'm sure there's a fancy word for this, but despite my TEN THOUSAND DOLLAR DEGREE I don't know what it is. Tom says is it magic realism? No it is not, but you get the idea anyway.

Although it's a modern book, it's written in the style of the times. Like Jane Austen, but without the marrying off, like RL Stevenson without the dark and crazy, like Dickens but without the heavy, like Conan Doyle but without the detective. But I didn't find it was at all difficult to read - more it just seemed quaint and cute when Susanna Clarke spells things like 'headach' and 'surprized'. She didn't do the thing with the exclamation marks in the middle of sentences though, which I really think we should bring back.

Anyway, the STORY. Well, it's a bit hard to describe it in enough detail but without giving too many things away. Also, the story does twist in a couple of different directions, so what you think is the overarching plotline at the beginning, is not where the book ends. Which would be a problem normally, but I didn't find it so in this book - I never caught myself bored or confused as to where it was going.

Basically it's about two magicians who want to bring magic back to England (Northern England had previously been ruled over by a fairy king), at a time when the only 'magicians' left are rather scholars of magic. Mr Norrell begins it all, but he is a recluse who, despite wanting fame and fortune, is jealous of his unique position and hoards all the magic books in England and won't teach what he has learned to others. Mr Strange is quite the opposite. He is a typical young hot-blooded lay-about landed Englishman, who takes up magic because his future wife wants him to choose a steady profession. Quickly he realises that he's good at it, and becomes Norrell's pupil. Together they set about bringing magic back, although they have personality clashes, and eventually Mr Strange goes to the continent to help (magically) fight in the Napoleonic Wars. This is the background for what happens but things get more interesting when people start getting abducted by fairies. There is a lot more to it; lots more quirky characters and events, but I think that's about all the background I can give, without giving away too much.

Yes, I liked this one, and would thoroughly recommend it. It's written well - it's not difficult to read, but has a lot of substance. It's well paced - slow enough that you're not on the edge of your seat the whole time, but fast enough to be engaging. Magical and imaginative, but not scary or illogical. The story is good, as is the interplay between characters, and it's a novel premise for a book. Good good good.


Margie said...

Well I'm not going to read this review yet because Mark has lent me a copy of this - but it's good to know it's worth it. The size is majorly scaring me off.

m∃ said...

The size is a bit threatening I know, but honestly I read the thing in less than two weeks. It's really only a problem in that it makes it a bit unweildy to read in bed or the bath. The fact that it's big in this case actually is a good thing - more good book to enjoy!