Neil Gaiman said that this book is "hard to overpraise"
, I will make an attempt thus:
While I was reading the second half of this book it occurred to me that I don't actually need to read any other novel ever again, I could just read this one book over and over again for the rest of my days and when the Grim Reaper calls I shall have this book clutched possessively in my stiff, unyielding fingers.
Momentary insanity of course, but it is indicative of the devotion I feel toward this book. With in the first page or two I was already feeling very friendly toward this book because of the prose. Ms. Clarke seems to be channelling Jane Austen by way of Oscar Wilde, P.G. Wodehouse, Hans Christian Andersen, with some dark sprinkles of Poe and Lovecraft. I grew increasingly fond of the book page by page until I was ready to put it on a pedestal and worship it by the time I reached in end.
The basic outline of the story is that it concerns the titular Jonathan and Mr. Norrell. Mr Norway brings magic back to England, takes on Mr. strange as his pupil, the two gentlemen later become rivals. Their interrelationship is the backbone of this long book that features wonderful characters, humour, sadness, heroism, redemption and magic, not to mention non-stop dancing and cameos by Napoleon Bonaparte Lord Byron and crazy King George III.
Normally when I read a long book of more than 700 pages in length I like to pause at about half way through, pick up a shorter book to read to the finish and go back to the long book. For me it helps to relieve the impatience from spending so much time with just one book. However, with this book* it is impossible, I could not extricate myself from it. I am a slowish reader and I spent about two weeks living and breathing this book and now that I have finish it I feel a little disoriented. Also, I tend to feel more comfortable reading SF than fantasy, the problem I personally have with a lot of fantasy is suspension of disbelief when magic manifests in some way. The pacing of this book is so perfect and the magic so skillfully and gradually woven into the story that I no problem throwing disbelief out the window and just settle down and immerse into this magical version of England.
Overpraise this book? Impossible!
A footnote about the footnotes. I am tempted to knock off one star for the over abundance of footnotes, I am personally not keen on them as they interrupt the flow of the story for me. However, it would be ill-bred of me to use my own preferences as the standard for quality assessment. The fact is that lots of people like them and I think that justify their existence; not to mention that they are as beautifully written as the main body of the book. It is also worth mentioning that you can skip them entirely and still follow the story without missing a beat. I skimmed them and I intend to go back to read them all. Besides, this book deserves at least a billion stars rating and Goodreads can only cope with five, so if I did knock off one star nobody would notice.
* I read the Kindle edition, the footnotes are hypertext links that jump to the back of the book (after the novel is ended), I had to ensure that I bookmark the page before I click on any footnote otherwise it would have been difficult to find my way back.
Have a look at Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell fan arts at Deviant Art
. A wiki devoted to this book
is also available for in-depth info.
Update June 2015:
- Neil Gaiman: Why I love Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
- Susanna Clarke on the TV Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell: ‘My own characters were walking about!’
- I love the BBC adaptation. The AV Club's reviews here
- According to Wikipedia
Susanna Clarke is working on another book set in the Strange & Norrell universe (so the word sequel may be inappropriate). Don't hold your breath waiting for it though because it took her ten years to write Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
by the time she publishes this second novel there may be flying cars and hoverboards on the street.