Saturday, August 17, 2013

Susanna Clarke - Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Centuries ago, when magic still existed in England, the greatest magician of them all was the Raven King. A human child brought up by fairies, the Raven King blended fairy wisdom and human reason to create English magic. Now, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, he is barely more than a legend, and England, with its mad King and its dashing poets, no longer believes in practical magic.
Then the reclusive Mr Norrell of Hurtfew Abbey appears and causes the statues of York Cathedral to speak and move. News spreads of the return of magic to England and, persuaded that he must help the government in the war against Napoleon, Mr Norrell goes to London. There he meets a brilliant young magician and takes him as a pupil. Jonathan Strange is charming, rich and arrogant. Together, they dazzle the country with their feats.
But the partnership soon turns to rivalry. Mr Norrell has never conquered his lifelong habits of secrecy, while Strange will always be attracted to the wildest, most perilous magic. He becomes fascinated by the shadowy figure of the Raven King, and his heedless pursuit of long-forgotten magic threatens, not only his partnership with Norrell, but everything that he holds dear.

Comment: This book has had many reviews over the years and was/is the talk for many readers. When the buzz was on, I bought the book (translated) and saw myself going through this masterpiece leisurely. All the best plans can fail and, unbelievable, the book has been waiting in my TBR list to be read for six years. I'm sure many of you have had books waiting for a longer time, but when I think I kept waiting a book I knew I wanted to read as fast as I could, oh well. Then, some friends read it and their opinion wasn't as thrilling as that and I let it wait, and wait, and wait...

This is the story of Mr Norrell and Jonathan Strange. They're magicians in the beginning of the 19th century and the author has created almost an alternate reality where we see real historical elements and situations mixed with fantasy innovations imagined by mrs Clarke.

I have to say the first word that comes to mind when thinking of something to describe this novel is confusing. There are just too many things in this book. Usually I don't have anything against long books but in this case the action isn't always easy to follow and there are too many things to pay attention to. This doesn't mean it's a difficult book to read in terms of writing or story, but in terms of style...I saw some reviews where people would say it's a matter of personal taste whether one enjoys the writing style which portrays the  writing style of the 19th century but I found out that wasn't what annoyed me. I just couldn't go past the huge amount of information about things not totally important to the story - no I don't mean the footnotes - when there was actually an interesting plot to think about.

There is a lot of conversation about magic and history and so on and I didn't mind that, but I had some trouble trying to focus on what really mattered to the plot. I found myself eager to know more about certain subjects, namely the mystery of magical things during the novel, but so many things were distracting and not that appealing to read about.
In fact there's a plot but when I thought we'd see more of it, there the author would come with lots more pages about things not that pertinent, it was very annoying to me. Even if when those pages were clearly the result of a lot of research and imagination, I'm not trying to lessen the work or the effort the author had with this novel, I applaud her actually, but in the end I just couldn't not think about all the useless information to the plot.
Apparently, the plot was focused on the enchantments a fairy made on some characters and how that would play with the main character's work, personality, actions...but the constant delay in showing that in contrast with other subjects was too much.
There were funny scenes, especially when Jonathan Strange helped in the war against Napoleon but I don't think it was necessary to have all that in there.

In the end, despite my curiosity towards the main storyline, there were way too many things in the way, plus a sort of boring storytelling in some parts and this promising and innovating fantasy novel became something too long, too lost. At least to me, as I'm aware many people loved it.
What I thought mattered the most I liked, but then there's the over the top...
I guess my opinion stays mid term. I liked it but I'm not fond of it and after a six year wait, I can't say it's a joy, more like a relief.

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