19 December 2012

Review: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can't remember the last time a book grabbed me and immersed me quite the way Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell did. This wasn't a book that I was necessarily in a rush to read until I saw a) that the BBC was making a miniseries out of it and b) so many of my friends immediately began raving about how good it was.

So I dove in. What I thought was going to be a fairly standard fantasy novel ended up being so much more. It's still fantasy, but it has elements of Infinite Jest, The Prestige, all sorts of fairy tales, European history...it's no surprise that the book took nearly a year to finish.

Ultimately, the book is an alternate history of England (and, in a sense, Europe) where magic is real and magicians exist. Norrell is one of these magicians and has made it rather difficult for magic to be practiced, and Jonathan Strange, who arrives and also practices magic. The book covers the rivalry that forms and the inevitable results of it.

What's great about this book? Pretty much everything. I could nitpick here and there for sure, but the sober historical analysis (it reads like a history book in many ways) combined with the short scenes that merely add some flavor to the overall text, to some of the more exciting exchanges throughout, to not really knowing anyone's real allegiances or whether they're "good" or "bad" or whether any of that really matters? Everything about this book was just really well-executed, and kept me hooked.

A book never takes me a week to finish, but it's that dense and that attention-grabbing that I had to take my time with it, so to speak. It really deserves all the accolades it has received over the years, and it's really someone everyone with some time and energy should check out.

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