Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell By Susanna Clarke: A Review (spoiler free)

strange+norrel=awesome

I feel the need to review this book.

Months after I’ve read it, it’s still on my mind.

Let me start at the very beginning.

When my mother began watching the TV production of JSAMN, (I hope you won’t mind me abbreviating it,) I thought it looked very interesting, and wanted to watch it myself. But when I found out that it was based on a book, I knew I had to read the book first. So, I resolved to check it out from the library, and went on Amazon to read the reviews.

It was disheartening.

First of all, it’s a huge book. I just wanted to read it so I could watch the show. I wasn’t in the mood for a huge book.

Second, while many raved about it, I also read a large number of negative reviews claiming that it was overly-long, dull, boring, pointless, confusing, dull, boring, unlimited rice pudding, et cetera, et cetera. So one can understand that it was reluctantly and with much hesitation that I lifted the cover of this tome of a book, lowered my eyes, and began to read.

My reaction to the first chapter was somewhere along the lines of,

“How interesting.”

I read on. I encountered numerous page-long footnotes.

How interesting.

I read on.

how delightful!

Clarke’s writing style was so entrancing, she could have been writing about burnt toast and I would have kept reading. I never became bored. I never felt the need to make rice pudding. I just wanted to keep reading and reading. My brother would start talking to me, and for about two minutes I’d mumble “mmhm” and “yeah” and the usual things, until he’d say something like,

“What do you think?” To which I would look up from the page and respond,

“What?”

I was sad to finish it, very sad indeed. If it had gone on infinitely, I’d still be reading. I wrote my own decidedly positive review on Amazon, but I kept it short, because who ever reads those five-page-long reviews on Amazon?

So what is this book I keep going on about? What’s it about? What’s so interesting about it?

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel is set in 19th century England, around the time of the Napoleonic Wars. It is about two magicians, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel, who are trying to bring magic, (no longer practiced or considered respectable,) back to England. Mr. Norrell is a book-reading introvert who loves nothing more than reading and nothing less than sharing his precious books. He likes to do magic with the weather and other such safe, (but nonetheless impressive,) things. Jonathan Strange is more the extroverted type, with a wife and plenty of friends, who would rather meddle with fairies than stick to the safer kinds of magic. You will also meet a whole cast of odd and quirky characters in this book, from the ostentatious Mr Drawlight, to the mysterious Childermass, to the devious Gentleman With The Thistledown Hair.

One of my favorite things about this book is Clarke’s writing style; The book feels like it was written around the time in which it is set. I also love the way the author describes people. Her descriptions not only made me laugh, but they gave me a really good idea of what the characters were like, and I got the sense that I was picturing them exactly the way the author would want me to. Clarke can really paint a picture with words.

The story is fairly heavy on dialogue, which can sometimes make a story uninteresting. But with JSAMN, I think the dialogue is interesting and very well-written, and I can honestly say that from the first page to the last, I was never bored. I cared about the characters, and wanted to find out what would happen to them next.

Some people have called JSAMN “Harry Potter for adults.” I think this is misleading, because,

#1. Who says Harry Potter isn’t for adults?

And #2. I find Harry Potter to be action-filled and fast-paced, whereas I think the plot of JSAMN really takes it’s time to develop, stretches out to it’s full length, so to speak, and most of the real action happens near the end. If I had to choose, I’d say I personally prefer JSAMN to the Harry Potter series, but they are very, very different books. I just think people are more likely to be disappointed if they start reading it expecting Harry Potter.

I think a lot of the reviews calling JSAMN “boring” were written by people who either found the book not to be their cup of tea, which is understandable, as you can’t expect everyone to like the same things, or people who just weren’t ready for it. This is not a young adult novel or a children’s book, it is written for people at a higher reading level than that. I think that anyone who reads the first few chapters and finds it utterly boring should put it aside and come back to it in a year or so. There is nothing to be gained by forcing oneself to read something one isn’t ready for. But this book was definitely¬†my cup of tea, and one I will be drinking of again and again in years to come.

I’m suspicious. Suspicious of myself. I feel like if I were a real literary critic, I would find something negative to say about it. A hole in the plot. A word used one to many times,(peninsula, perhaps?) But I am not a real literary critic, just a person who loves to read, and there wasn’t a single page I didn’t like.

An Overview of JSAMN

Cringe Worthy Material: As far as violence goes, I’d consider the violence in this book to be mild. The author doesn’t tend to go into great detail. As far as other, ahem, “adult material,” there is none of that.

Is There A Dog In It: While there is mention of stray dogs walking down the street once or twice, alas, there are no dogs that play an important role in this story. However, this doesn’t add or detract from my rating.

You’ll Enjoy It If: You’re looking for a very well written book with interesting dialogue, a fully matured and well-thought-out plot, and characters that feel real and unique.

You Won’t Enjoy It If: You’re looking for an action-filled thriller, or you’re looking for a book to read to your six-year-old.

Overall Rating: Five out of Five stars. In my opinion, a masterpiece.

 

 

 

 

 

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