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Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell posted 10 September 2004 in ReviewsSusanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Aldarion, Sorcerer-of-Rank

By now, many of you have read the hype. Some of you might have read the reviews (and I'm going to provide a link to [url=http://www.scifi.com/sfw/issue385/excess.html:2360u9i4]John Clute's excellent review[/url:2360u9i4], which offers cautious praise with some astute commentary on where the novel falls short). Now I'm going to provide my impressions of the novel.

This is a very, very good first novel. As such, I think Clarke more than exceeds what many readers should expect from a typical first novel. She balances her use of language, humor, characterization, and scene vividness very well. It might be that her years as an editor for various non-fiction departments of Simon and Schuster have helped, although there are some issues that could have been addressed within the novel.

The story is set in the early 19th century, as two practicing magicians (the first in almost 300 years) have emerged. The fussy Mr. Norrell has met his match in the dashing and gregarious Jonathan Strange. Theirs is a strained relationship marked by jealousies and petty behavior. Clarke does a good job comparing and contrasting these personality types in a variety of scenes, using the dialogue and scene narratives to develop these characters rather than relying on heavy-handed exposition.

In reading this almost 800 page novel, one is struck by just how close Clarke comes to reproducing the tone and Zeitgeist of the early 19th century. For an author who professes a love for 19th century English writers such as Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, her use of the English language resembles and expounds upon their efforts. In fact, reading this novel has given me a vague yearning to re-read Dickens, Austen, Anthony Trollope, Wilkie Collins, and other 19th century English novelists that I enjoyed. Also, Clarke wryly works in references to Ann Radcliffe and Matthew Lewis, whose Gothic stories were a major sensation during the time period of the novel (1806-1817).

So the language is really good, full of humor, biting wit, and with excellent characterization and memorable scenes. What are the weaknesses of this novel? If I had to point out anything in particular, I'd have to go with what Clute says in his review - there's too much of a good thing here. A surfeit is not always good for the reading mind, and there are places where a little bit of trimming could have made this wonderful story almost flawless, especially in the first section of the novel.

Now one caveat about this novel: it is part of a larger whole. Although Clarke has made this clear in interviews, the book blurb fails to mention that this story is not complete once you reach page 782. There is more to be written, presumably a trilogy, since that is the number on the contract Clarke signed with Bloomsbury. But don't let this stop you from reading one of the more magical books to be published this year, one that envokes all sorts of pleasant memories of other excellent stories, at least for this reader. view post


Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell posted 10 September 2004 in ReviewsSusanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Alric, Auditor

Nice review. I read Clute's and another very similar one a couple days ago. It sounds pretty much as I expected. So, I'm happy that we've been keeping this title in the minds of people at OF and here. I look forward to starting my copy. <!-- s;) --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/icon_wink.gif" alt=";)" title="Wink" /><!-- s;) --> view post


Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange &amp; Mr. Norrell posted 10 September 2004 in ReviewsSusanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange &amp; Mr. Norrell by Aldarion, Sorcerer-of-Rank

Yep. I trust Clute's opinion more than I do most any other reviewer, as he does so many of the "little things" right in terms of what I want in a review.

Should be interesting to learn how many here (and at OF) have read/will want to read this book. Very difficult to live up to that amount of hype, but it sure comes very close in all facets. Hopefully, I'll be feeling well enough to see her in person next week in Nashville. Should be fun - second author signing. The first was quite memorable <!-- s;) --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/icon_wink.gif" alt=";)" title="Wink" /><!-- s;) --> view post


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