Sunday, January 4, 2009
"Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell" - Susanna Clarke
This book has been called fantasy, alternate history, and science fiction, but at its heart is the simple story of two English magicians who have very different beliefs in how magic should be conducted in the early 1800s.
Mr. Norrell fosters knowledge, feasting upon thousands of archaic books about magic. He believes all magic can be learned from books, yet he does not share his library with anyone except his servant.
Jonathan Strange, on the other hand, believes that the only way to understand magic is to practice it. As Mr. Norrell's pupil, he becomes frustrated, and eventually leaves to begin binding spells and creating his own incantations. This makes Norrell furious.
Add in a nasty faerie who manipulates both magicians, and the book becomes an 800-plus tome that uses names and places from the time (Lord Byron, for example) and well as footnotes from fictitious sources.
Many critics believe that this is the best fantasy book (geared toward adults - geez, we don't want to piss off the Potter-lovers) to come from England in decades. Perhaps. It's not my specialty. But, as a reader, I would drop this heavy book whenever something new and shiny came within armslength. I could always pick it up again and blend back into the narrative. The first is negative, the second is positive, so I'm reluctant to pick a side. It may be easiest to state that this novel is memorable, yet disposable.
I'm glad I finally finished it after an on and off affair of eight months.
3.5 out of 5.0 Black Magics.