Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

“Woods were tinged with a colour so soft, so subtle that it could scarcely be said to be a colour at all. It was more the idea of colour – as if the trees were dreaming green dreams or thinking green thoughts”

“They looked at each other for a long moment, and in that moment all was as it used to be – it was as if they had never parted; but she did not offer to go into the Darkness with him and he did not ask her.” (Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke)

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell coverI go on binges of recommending Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell every so often. These readers’ advisory frenzies are usually precipitated by rereading the book, watching the BBC series, or meeting someone with any of the characters’ names. Yet, when recommending, I often lean back on clichés like: ‘I’ve read it three times’, ‘you must read it if you like literature, historical fiction, and fantasy’, or ‘the magic is ridiculously creative’. In a way, I think I love the book too much to form a cogent argument for reading it. Every time I talk about it, I just hope I can make my face and words animated enough so that my audience will gloss over what I’m actually saying.

It is equally difficult to convey my earnest love for the book in print. I could use lots of exclamation points: brilliant writing!!! Unexpected magic!!! Lovely, yet somehow entirely un-romantic conclusion!!!!! Or, I could make a few comparisons: Clarke rivals literature greats like Trollope or Burnett in piercing character descriptions; her footnotes match Infinite Jest in depth and world building; Like Austen, her book is beautifully symmetrical, each character having another to play off of and reveal themselves through. Or, I could talk about her mode of delivery, like when she requires her readers wait 250 pages before introducing the title character and 9/10ths of the book before allowing us to glimpse the keystone magician in her redesigned history of Britain.

The reason why you choose to read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell doesn’t matter – if these arguments don’t convince you, do a google search to find ones that do – what does matter is that you grab a copy (borrowed/purchased/ebook/print) as soon as you can.

Recommended Action: BuyBorrowTBRAvoid
Length: 1,024 pages
Ending: Hopeful, but entirely un-romantic
Incidental Learning: History of Britain, Napoleonic Wars
Further Reading: After Clarke, you might be spoiled for other fantasy. I’d recommend going to other literature + fantasy authors, like Neil Gaiman or Station Eleven

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