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 andÂ 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.Â
Unfortunately, it’s a novel that’s being made into a film…and while I really enjoy the work of theÂ 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 doÂ 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.