kottke.org posts about jonathanstrangeandmrnorrell

Jonathan Strange and Mr. NorrellMar 30 2005

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

January was a rough month for me and I needed a break from all the "heavy" nonfiction I usually read, so I picked up Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, a well-received fantasy novel. I'm normally not much of a fantasy reader, but I was in the mood for something fanciful and besides, JS&MN isn't really fantasy. It contains fantastic things like magicians, Raven Kings, and faeries but belongs more to the 19th century British novel genre...more Jane Austen than JRR Tolkien. (Clarke lists Austen as her favorite author on the book's site.)

And it's just plain good, whatever the genre. The simple bold cover drew me in (it looks like the font used is a close cousin to Caslon Antique), but the plot kept me in "I can't put it down" mode until I had finished. A surprise was how clever and funny Clarke's writing was...I found myself laughing out loud several times at the book's cutting deadpan wit. The book weighs in at ~780 pages, but my only disappointment upon finishing was that the story was over...I felt like I'd just gotten to know the characters and wanted to follow them on all sorts of adventures. Luckily, Clarke is working on a sequel of sorts, according to the book's web site:

The next book will be set in the same world and will probably start a few years after Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell finishes. I feel very much at home in the early nineteenth century and am not inclined to leave it. I doubt that the new book will be a sequel in the strictest sense. There are new characters to be introduced, though probably some old friends will appear too. I'd like to move down the social scale a bit. Strange and Norrell were both rich, with pots of money and big estates. Some of the characters in the second book have to struggle a bit harder to keep body and soul together. I expect there'll be more about John Uskglass, the Raven King, and about how magic develops in England.

The first chapter is online if you'd like to read it and Metacritic has several reviews.

P.S. For fun, here are Amazon's Statistically Improbable Phrases for this book: new manservant, madhouse attendants, fairy roads, practical magician.

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