Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell by Susanna Clarke

Nearly ten years after I bought the book I have read every single word, every single footnote, and I am very nearly lost for words. I loved it that much.

jonathan_strangeThe story opens in a world is so very alive, a very real England, an England that I visited many times in 18th and 19th century novels, an England rich in detail, but an England that has been rebuilt with have the history and presence of magic quite beautifully woven in.

A wonderful array of characters, each and everyone with a significant part to play, simply and beautifully drawn, were given names that described them beautifully without ever seeming contrived, and they brought that world, and that story to life.

It began in an England where magic had died after the disappearance of its greatest magician, The Raven King, who had come out of the Land of Faerie to reign in the north. Magic was a dry academic subject, not a practical art.

One man asked why that was, and  events that the Raven King had prophesised began to unfold:

Two magicians shall appear in England.
The first shall fear me; the second shall long to behold me;
The first shall be governed by thieves and murderers; the second shall conspire at his own destruction;
The first shall bury his heart in a dark wood beneath the snow, yet still feel its ache;
The second shall see his dearest possession in his enemy’s hand.
The first shall pass his life alone; he shall be his own gaoler;
The second shall tread lonely roads, the storm above his head, seeking a dark tower upon a high hillside.
I sit upon a black throne in the shadows but they shall not see me.
The rain shall make a door for me and I shall pass through it;
The stones shall make a throne for me and I shall sit upon it.
The nameless slave shall wear a silver crown,
The nameless slave shall be a king in a strange country.

I don’t want to write about details of plot and character, because I couldn’t possibly do them justice, and if I tried I wouldprobably be up all night, going around and around  in circles.

What I will write about are some of the things I loved:

I loved that the prophecy played out in the story, and that even though I had ideas about what was going to happen I never really knew, and that what did happen was exactly right.

I loved the characters and the relationship of Mr Norrell and Mr Strange, and that even thought their differing natures and view about the history and restoration of magic in England drove them apart, their love of magic pulled them together.

I loved that so much of magic, so much of the heart of the story, was steeped in nature and history, and utterly timeless.

I loved the set pieces, and the drawing in of real figures from history was inspired.

I loved the tone, the wit, the style, the echoes of great novelists; and I was dazzled by the depth of knowledge, by the love of the creator for her creation that shone from the pages, and by the work that she had so clearly done to allow this world so rich in detail, so real and so magical, to live and breathe.

I loved the end of the story echoed the beginning, and that the seeds of that ending were sown very quietly, and very early in the story. And I loved that though the ending was an ending, it might also be the start of something else.

Most of all, I loved that even though the book wasn’t quite perfect, that there were one or two sequences that dragged, it didn’t matter, that I still loved the book as a whole. Because the idea was so wonderful, because its execution was so clever, and because everything came together and worked quite perfectly.

I didn’t want to leave that world, I wanted to know what was happening around the stories when interesting characters were offstage, I wanted to know what had happened before, what would happen afterward, and I so wanted to be part of it all.

How I wish I could visit the library at Hurfew, and read and read and read …..

I’m at a loss now that the story has played out, but I am quite sure that one day I will visit this world again.


Vishy, from Vishy’s Blog, and Delia, from Postcards from Asia have been the hosts of this readalong, and I am so grateful that they inspired me to pick this book up and finally read it right through to the end.

13 responses

  1. Beautiful review, it shows perfectly how much you enjoyed the book. I liked the book a lot, especially the language and the humour and I felt sad when I turned the last page.
    I am glad you read with us and I hope you will do it again in the future.

  2. Pingback: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell read-along, Volume III – John Uskglass | Postcards from Asia

  3. This is one of my absolute favourite books, I’ve read it twice already. If you haven’t already, you should pick up Clarke’s short story collection, The Ladies of Grace Adieu. It has a lot of the same atmosphere.

  4. I have tried twice to start this book but have failed miserably both times. Perhaps what I need is a long spell with nothing else to do when I can simply immerse myself in it. Unfortunately, that’s like wishing for the rain to stop at the moment. Wishful thinking!

  5. Pingback: Readalong – Jonathan Strange and Mr.Norrell by Susanna Clarke – Volume 2 (Jonathan Strange) and Volume 3 (John Uskglass) | Vishy's Blog

  6. Beautiful review, Fleur! Like you, I liked the way Susanna Clarke depicted the period of the story authentically, weaving in historical figures and events into the story, using the spelling of that era and the humour and the language reflecting the period in which the story is set. I also liked the ending – it leaves one yearning for more. Thanks for joining us in this readalong and glad to know that you enjoyed the ride.

  7. Your great reviews have certainly helped carry me along during the first two weeks, since it took me a long time to get into the book. I was impressed by how well Clarke manages to tie everything together in the third volume. It was ingenious to see how every part of the prophecy fell into place.

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