Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell

by Susanna Clarke

I picked up this book for the first time about a year ago. Although I was intrigued by the magical subject matter, the 800 page book complete with footnotes seemed more than a little intimidating. I put it off until recently when I acquired the book on CD. The footnotes are conveniently inserted into the narration, so the reader does not have to glance down at the bottom of the page and up again, making it a very smooth read. Simon Prebble narrates the audio version, and his wonderful charismatic voice gives shape to an already imaginative story.

Although there is an enormous amount of back story and, I assume, fictional research about the history of English magic, the main plot concerns two magicians: Mr. Norrell and his apprentice, Jonathon Strange and their quest to restore magic to England. In the beginning, both magicians provide their services to the British government to aid in the war with French, to which they are successful. Yet as the story progresses, the differences between Strange and Norrell come between them, causing them to go their separate ways, mainly the reliance on faerie magic and the belief in the Raven King, John Uskglass, who was a human captured and raised in Faerie. He was the father of English magic. Yet, Norrell despised all mention of John Uskglass and vowed not to request the aid of fairies, although he did once, resulting in a disastrous effect. Strange, on the other hand, tries to resurrect the ancient magic used by Uskglass in an attempt to rescue his wife from a faerie enchantment. The destiny of Norrell and Strange is foretold in a prophecy by Vinculus, who has a surprising secret.

The story is chock full of fantastic characters including the man (fairy) with the thistle-down hair who captures innocent humans and takes them to his home in Faerie to dance the night away in a magically morbid ball; Stephen, the African-American servant, who the fairy determines to make King of England; Lady Pole, who was resurrected from the dead by Mr. Norrell in exchange for her little finger; Childemas, Norrell's servant, who finds the lost book of John Uskglass; and the society of practical magicians who, after Norrell dispells their ability to study magic, come back in the end to aid in the restoration.

If you have the time, and the determination, I highly recommend this book. Its not as easy to read as Harry Potter, being more for adults, but it will transport you to a world that, at first glance, seems familiar yet with a layer of magic and mysticism that appears before your very eyes. The length of the book is nothing to scoff at, but I was sad when it was over, especially since I had become so involved with the story and the characters.


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