The small print and the number of pages in this novel promises ample time in your reading chair.  So be sure to have lots of time to kill to thoroughly enjoy this one.

Author :  Susanna Clarke

Published Date : August 1, 2006

Publisher: Tor Books

ISBN-10: 0765356155

ISBN-13: 978-0765356154

Pages :   1,024

Synopsis :

Susanna Clarke writes of an alternate England, a place rich in history of magic and folklore.

It is the beginning of the 19th century in England, a time when magic has been relegated to pages of esoteric books,  studied by only certain gentlemen with a passion for magical theory.  It has been centuries since magicians had wielded any real power or communed with fairy folk so that magic in England has been presumed lost forever or simply non-existent.

At the height of the Napoleonic war,  Mr. Norrell, a reclusive pedantic magician, one of the only practical or practicing magicians in England, suddenly comes out of his solitary society with the goal of restoring magic in England, in his own terms.  So he applies to help the government combat Napoleon Buonaparte.  His magical talents immediately catapult him to celebrity status.  Soon however, a younger and more adventurous magician,  sort of a more freewheeling one in the person of Jonathan Strange, emerges to aid Mr. Norrell in the war.  Owing to the Mr. Norrell’s age and scholarship (he owns almost all the books of magic that can be had), Strange becomes his pupil.  Together, they become England’s most celebrated and only recognized magicians.

Their contradictory personalities and philosophies, however, guarantee a building scenario toward a clash which inevitably brings about Strange’s estrangement from his former mentor.  This division between England’s two foremost magicians lead to a cataclysmic strife in fulfillment of a prophecy for both England and the world of the fairy.

The Review:

This book, a gift from my aunt, had been sitting in my shelf for more than a year now.  Its simple cover and ordinary title just didn’t cry out to be read so that the book was often bypassed in favor of those with more interesting colors and come-ons.

Little did I know…these nondescript book covers hold pages of a marvelous literary gem that outshines many in my library.  This book is a rare delight, a captivating original for which I can find no equal.

The New York Post says of this work :  “…think Harry Potter sprinkled with the dust of Tolkien and Alasdair Gray…”    I disagree.  It is a far cry from J.K. Rowling’s and Tolkien’s work.  This book stands on its own merits and can perhaps have that exceptional position of having no other work in its genre that can be compared to it.

The book is a blend of history and fantasy, the most part being that of fantasy.  However, the reader is never sure where fiction ends and fact begins (are there even any facts?) when the author starts footnoting a word, a title, or a group of  sentences.  The footnotes, fictitious or otherwise, often refer to dated publications.  There are way over a hundred of these footnotes which pepper the entire book.  The footnotes themselves are interesting pieces of asides, ranging as short as as a one-liner to as long as a little story in itself, spanning two pages.  Susanna Clarke  used meticulous footnoting as a brilliant strategy to lend her book a conviction of credibility.

The language of writing is reminiscent of those of the nineteenth century.  Take a peek into a Jane Austen novel and you’ll know what I mean.  The style is formal and elegant yet wonderfully precise so that it showcases the author’s sharp dry wit and her command of vivid description.

“The door opened to reveal a tall, broad fellow of thirty or forty.  His face was round, white, pockmarked and bedabbled with sweat like a Chesire cheese.  All in all he bore a striking resemblance to the man in the moon who is reputed to be made of cheese.  He had shaved himself with no very high degree of skill and here and there on his white face two or three coarse black hairs appeared–rather as if a family of flies had drowned in the milk before the cheese was made and their legs were poking out of it…”

One can be enraptured by this old-fashioned intelligent writing style.  As one so enamored, I felt like I were in a feather cloud of words with all these pretty phrases falling delicately about me.   Susanna Clarke writes very consistently in this manner and even uses archaic spelling in keeping with her language.   For example, she uses “chuse” for choose, “shew” for show, “scissars” for scissors.

This is Susanna Clarke’s debut novel and it speaks for the author’s superb writing talent.  Her deadpan humor can fairly surprise a chuckle from you while her orchestrated sudden mood turns can illicit that gasp of incredulity.  At times, the narrative may sound indifferent and haughty and then dark and sinister in an instant.  How Clarke plays with her words is a marvel to witness;  and with this, she draws her characters and events so well as to leave one wanting more despite the book’s thousand pages.

To Read Or Not To Read?:

All this is not to say, however, that this book is for everyone.  The writing language may not appeal to many, the thousand or so pages may prove to be daunting,  and the footnoting may leave a tedious aftertaste with some readers.    To enjoy it, one must not mind reading a very long fantastical story written in old-fashioned English.  Rather, the reader must savor its literary style  and allow himself to be transported into its world to really appreciate this book.   For those who don’t mind these caveats,  the joy of immersing in a work of quality and originality will be reward enough.

In A Nutshell:

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell deserves the heaps of glowing reviews,  and its Hugo and World Fantasy awards.  It is a phenomenal masterpiece  which seamlessly embodies social comedy, fantasy, history, Gothic horror, and a teeny tiny sprinkling of poignant romance.  A wonderful, wonderful book best enjoyed when savored, this  novel of high fantasy has surely earned an honored place in my shelf.

My Mark :  Excellent; Superior

Advertisements