Friend of English Magic

Last night, around 11PM, I finally finished up Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke. I don’t know that I’ve ever read such a well-imagined novel. Ever. Clarke weaves actual English history with her own invented magical English history and  throughout gives the reader plenty of reasons to pause to determine where the fantasy ends and begins. The tone of the novel is complete Austen/Dickens (to a point when such a posture can no longer be maintained) and will delight any lover of 1800s English Lit. I’m completely in awe of the size and scope of this novel and how approachable and readable it is despite the massive size and scope. Clarke enjoyably explores the complex tensions that occurred during the Regency period between the upper and lower class, men and women, North and South England and folk and Enlightenment reasoning. I can’t praise the book enough. This is the level of literary artfulness I hope Workman someday achieves.

Granted, many of the items that enamored me to Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell will turn off many folks. The 19th-century prose will certainly bore a few. The lengthy footnotes will be too much a distraction for some. The elements of fantasy will prevent “Litter Chure”-heads from given the novel its due props. S&N isn’t a novel to breeze through. It’s a novel to savor, slow and sweet. It’s a novel to get lost in. 

Unfortunately, it’s a novel that’s being made into a film…and while I really enjoy the work of the writer who’s doing the script…two of the real pleasures of this work will never make it to screen: the incredibly dense narration and the imaginative foot-noted asides. I do fear the film will become a feast of special effects while the novel treats magic as the most unextraordinary thing (again, to a point when such posturing becomes impossible).

Anyway – read the book.

Friend of English Magic

4 thoughts on “Friend of English Magic

  1. To my shame, I bought this book when it first came out, read a few chapters, got distracted , and haven’t returned to it since. Because of your review, I’ll dust that sucker off and give it another shot. Thanks!


  2. Toby says:

    I agree with your conclusions. I don’t remember the impulse that caused to purchase this book to begin with, but I do remember the first editions to hit the bookstores were shrink-wrapped as if it were pornography — or maybe to keep casual book-flippers from discovering the dense prose within. Maybe the shrink-wrap’s real purpose, and one in which it excelled, was simply to pique the interest of people like me, who went on to research the book on Amazon and purchase it there.


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