My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Enter a world of Napoleonic rule, dark alleyways, and reclusive estates.
Enter a world of apprenticeship and fa(e)teful dealings.
Enter a world of practical magic; a world exclusive to Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.
Allow me a moment of honesty – this book requires commitment to complete. Don’t get me wrong. It is masterfully written in a beautiful, educated language filled with rich descriptions, enthralling subject matter, and perfectly timed dialogue. There is nothing I can say against this novel; it truly is a work of art. I admire Susanna Clarke for her talent, ability to organize such a large project, and knowledge of such a subject. But had I not been previously invested in the subject of faeries and old England prior to picking up the book I likely would have set it down one day, mid-read, and walked away forgetting it completely.
Perhaps the magic within the pages spilled out somehow and left me feeling an uneasiness about the life of it. Believe me when I tell you, the world changes a little with each page you turn.
The footnotes may have been my favorite part. They became something to look forward to – a further indulgence of folklore or historical occurrence that broadens the reality of the era in which this story is set without distracting from the narrative with facts and figures. (Some four pages long!) If you wanted to, you could pass the footnotes by without a second glance and not miss out on Jonathan or Mr. Norrell’s doings, but you would be at a disadvantage to the mastery of this novel. It is obvious that Clarke was dedicated to this project and had a specific vision for it. I hope the TV show available through the BBC will do it justice. Clarke seems to have done all the research for producers anyway – it’ll be hard for them to screw it up!
In all, the novel reads as a historical non-fiction, although it isn’t, based on real and true people who lived, breathed, and spit fire. Before the story is through you will question reality and from the forgotten depths of your inner-child’s heart you will believe in magic once more.
Susanna Clarke does such an amazing and thorough job in citing sources and connecting historical non-fiction with the lives of Jonathan and Mr. Norrell that the clouds of doubt begin to clear away and although it may seem impossible you begin to wonder why not. Stranger things have been proven to be true. In fact, the realm of the fae must exist; the folklore bred in a depth of truth. It’s made me envious of the English for their rich history. And it’s left me still wondering.