Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

Author: Susanna Clarke

Why did I read it? Because it had wonderful reviews. I enjoy magical, historical and fantasy fiction and, it has been lauded extensively. In the end, I did not read it, but listened to it, unabridged.

My Opinion? Let me preface this review by saying: I am a fan of Austen; I am a fan of Dickens; and I am a fan of Tolkien.

I am not a fan of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

I purchased two copies of this book, one on my way to Australia, which I promptly handed to my grandmother before a single page was read, the second on my return for my own use. I ended up purchasing an audio copy which was over 32 hours long.

Several times I stopped listening because I found it boring, despite the wonderful efforts of Mr. Prebble in voice characterisation. After a while, I knew which character was speaking simply by their voice. Mr. Prebble was also very adept at handling the footnotes in that I always knew when they had ended and he had returned to the main story. Mr. Prebble really tried to breathe life into this book. Alas, he was unsuccessful.

I probably took 15 hours before I discerned any sort of plot. Though it is said that in an Austen book, "nothing ever happens", it's not exactly true, whereas in the case of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, I'm afraid that it's not until section 2 of the book (around the 15 hour mark on the audio) before matters progress and some semblance of a plot emerges.

For my own part, I could have done without knowing anything of Mr. Strange's actions in the Napoleonic Wars; I have no idea what they added to the plot other than for the purposes of ridiculing the perceptions of historical characters and, indeed, Mr. Strange himself. I felt some characters were shoehorned into the story even though they did not particularly add anything. The Graysteels being one instance: Apart from receiving Mrs Strange upon her return from Faery - Mr. Segundus might have been a viable alternative - I have no idea why they were created. Mr. Norrell’s servants whom Childermass directs to assist the two magicians at the last, but then desert, were another. Did I really need to know anything about them? Surely Lascelles would have fled if left on his own anyway?

Like others, I admire Susanna Clarke's ability to recreate the Regency era in a style entirely new, wherein magic "is simply an arcane branch of learning, like medicine or physics, and its practitioners as essentially applied scientists". I can also appreciate the attempt to write a pastiche of authors such as Austen and Dickens and to imbibe it with ironic humour; for me, though, it failed in its delivery.

Would I recommend it? I know I am in the minority, the awards bestowed upon Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell are many, and the majority of readers can but sing its praises, but I just cannot recommend this book to anyone. I shall be disposing of my hard copy imminently.

Rating: 2/5.


Seren said...

I read it a few years ago after having it recommended to me. I couldn't stand it either! In fact, you sum up pretty much exactly what I thought at the time.

Ancestral Gael said...

I'm glad to find another who disliked it. I truly feel I am in the minority on this one.

I was a little apprehensive about posting this entry, as I have seen how some negative reviewers have been lambasted.