Barbara's Random Thoughts

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

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Julie asked me about this one a while back, and I finally finished it this week. The pace is a bit slow at the beginning, but it picks up as the book progresses. I hit some momentum in the last third and didn't want to put it down. Even though I kept setting it aside because I was reading other stuff, I really liked it.

It's set in England in the early 19th century, in a time when the art of English magic has been virtually lost. Most magicians are content to read about magic rather than attempt it. Enter Mr Norrell, the first "practical magician" England has seen in many years. Norrell and his subsequent pupil, Jonathan Strange, seek to bring the practice of magic back to England. There's also a rather malicious fairy, and a lot about the mysterious Raven King, who once ruled both England and several Faeire kingdoms.

The book is filled with invented footnotes referencing fictitious biographies about the two magicians, other books about magic, and anecdotes from England's magical history. At first I found it a bit tiresome, interrupting the story with these little interpolations, but the footnotes grew on me. Clarke uses them as a way to fill out the background for the world she's created, making the huge novel feel like it's got an even bigger historical world behind it.

I read a review that described the book as Dickens, with magic. And I think that's a good description. If you don't have the patience for an 800-pager like David Copperfield, then it's probably not for you. But if you like sprawling Dickens novels, you'll probably like this. I did. =)
| posted by Barbara | 9:38 PM