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Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna…

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (2004)

by Susanna Clarke

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Clarke's Faerie Stories

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
20,25861376 (3.95)1 / 884
  1. 351
    The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories by Susanna Clarke (billiecat, celtic)
  2. 311
    Stardust by Neil Gaiman (GreenVelvet, GreenVelvet, GreenVelvet)
    GreenVelvet: Both Stardust and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell are detailed, well-written and riveting explorations of the world of fairie.
  3. 200
    Little, Big by John Crowley (VisibleGhost)
  4. 202
    The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly (derelicious, jonathankws)
  5. 180
    The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (-Eva-, BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: Magical rivalries are at the heart of these unconventional Fantasy novels, which play out over decades and against elaborate, atmospheric 19th-century backdrops. Their initially relaxed pacing gains momentum as the various narrative threads dramatically converge.… (more)
  6. 182
    The King of Elfland's Daughter by Lord Dunsany (billiecat)
    billiecat: Clarke's descriptions of Faerie share the dreamlike qualities of Dunsany's novel.
  7. 183
    The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (majkia)
    majkia: both books evoked the same sort of feeling for me.
  8. 206
    Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake (saltmanz)
    saltmanz: Both extrememly atmospheric books, with vivid visuals and memorable characters.
  9. 141
    Lud-in-the-mist by Hope Mirrlees (TheSpecialistsCat)
    TheSpecialistsCat: Both Clarke and Mirrlees lived briefly in Spain, then returned home to write about fairies and also, ostensibly, what it means to be English.
  10. 185
    The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud (clif_hiker)
  11. 131
    Sorcery and Cecelia, or, The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede (fyrefly98)
    fyrefly98: Both have the same "Jane-Austen-meets-Harry-Potter" vibe to them; "Jonathan Strange" is denser and more grown-up, while "Sorcery & Cecelia" is funnier and more of a romp.
  12. 175
    His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik (Rodo)
  13. 176
    The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper (ErlendSkjelten)
    ErlendSkjelten: I don't remember making this recommendation, much less why I did; they are very different books. I think I felt that they both conjured up the same mystic mood, and they are both concerned with a very British magic.
  14. 133
    To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis (hiredman)
  15. 103
    The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton (flissp)
  16. 60
    The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox (Anonymous user)
  17. 71
    Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner (spiphany)
  18. 105
    The Prestige by Christopher Priest (Patangel)
  19. 61
    Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal (nnicole, Jannes)
    nnicole: Magic during the English Regency.
    Jannes: Evokes the same sort of magic in a historical setting (is that a genre yet?) without straying too far inot fantasy/alt-history territory.
  20. 50
    Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis (Aerrin99)
    Aerrin99: Books which focus on a fascinating historical Britain, but with added fun like magicians and more.

(see all 51 recommendations)


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English (600)  French (5)  Japanese (2)  Italian (2)  Finnish (2)  Swedish (1)  Catalan (1)  German (1)  All languages (614)
Showing 1-5 of 600 (next | show all)
Here is a homage to Regency literature that surpasses mere pastiche. Here is an alternate history that makes one doubt the history one knows. Here too is a fantasy for those who hate fantasy. Here, in short, is great literature -- involving as well as immersive, and above all beautifully written. It certainly deserves its accolades, both public and individual.

This is a story about the revival of English magic in the early 19th century brought about by the foremost magicians of the age. This is also a story about the dangers attached to re-awakening dormant forces that one may not understand, let alone control. All those Arabian Nights stories about the perils of letting the genie out of the bottle or of unwittingly killing the genie's son by carelessly discarding date stones are reminders that fairy folk and their peers are not to be trifled with unless you know what you're letting yourself in for. So it proves for Gilbert Norrell and for his pupil Jonathan Strange.

But Strange and Norrell aren't the only ones to suffer unwelcome interest from that quarter -- there are the innocents such as Lady Pole, the butler Stephen Black and even Mrs Strange -- and this is where Susanna Clarke has excelled herself. She knows her fairy lore, Irish, Welsh and Scottish as well as English, and she knows about the contracts that entail from any contact, whether witting or unwitting, with the Sidhe, Tylwyth Teg or the Unseelie Court. She also is familiar with and fond of Georgian and Regency literature and so is able to frame her retellings of fairytales as if told by, say, Jane Austen or Laurence Sterne.

The first 'volume' focuses on Gilbert Norrell, and he comes across as a cold fish: vain where his powers are concerned he is determined to have no rivals, ruthlessly acquiring all copies of key works on magic and disparaging any potential upstarts. At one point he really goes beyond the pale and appears to lose any lingering sympathy we might have had for him. We learn from the second 'volume' that Jonathan Strange is a a different kettle of fish: a comfortably off dilletante he eventually settles on magic as his chosen hobby, after which he becomes every bit as obsessed with the craft as the man who reluctantly takes him on as his pupil. But where Mr Norrell is staid and reclusive Strange is exuberant and outgoing, even travelling as far as Spain to aid the Duke of Wellington in his Peninsular war against the French.

A professional rivalry appears to take centre stage, were it not for Norrell's ill-advised bringing of Lady Pole back from the dead. Having drawn the attention of an unnamed Gentleman with Thistledown Hair the self-proclaimed foremost English magician must take responsibility for all that then follows. The Gentleman becomes enamoured with Lady Pole, then Stephen Black, coercing them to attend his nightly balls; he even spirits away the one person whom Jonathan Strange should prize above all others. There seems to be no way to extricate any of these from the several plights that befall them, a conundrum that energetically drives the plot in its later stages.

Despite the title there are several other vividly-drawn characters that draw our attention. Apart from the amoral and vindictive Gentleman we have Lascelles and Drawlight, two rascally individuals who hope to cash in on Norrell's social naivety and growing prestige; you have to hope that they will get their come-uppance (though I latterly had some sympathy for the unfortunate Drawlight). Norrell's servant Childermass is an extraordinary creation -- cunning and yet blunt, loyal and resourceful -- one whom I wanted to hear more about. Vinculus the soothsayer was another intriguing personage, along with the "unnamed slave" Stephen Black who is destined to become a king, just not in the way we expect. One could go on -- it is to Clarke's credit that these disparate individuals (and a few others) not only remain distinctive but encourage us to engage with them.

Constantly alluded to yet barely present is the enigmatic John Uskglass, the Raven King (Volume III is named for him). Like his Viking predecessors his war-flag or guðfani had as an emblem a raven in flight; the largest of the corvids of course has enjoyed a long mythic, even Otherworldly association. In the author's parallel history John Uskglass ruled an independent kingdom encompassing the North of England, set in place not long after the Norman Conquest, and though presumed in human terms to be long dead he has not been entirely lost to human tradition. Imagine a raven flying high over a desolate landscape, as if in a Pieter Bruegel the Elder painting: a distant silhouette emitting a doleful cronk neatly symbolises the far-reaching and almost baleful influence Uskglass wields over English magic.

Clarke's canvas is magnificent, not only in treatment but also in range: we travel from London thoroughfares inhabited by popinjays to the sparse wilds of the Yorkshire moors, from the battle-scarred Spanish countryside to the narrow calli and murky canals of Venice, from the liminal county of Shropshire in the Welsh Marches to the limbo realm that is Faerie. And yet hers is the view seen through a powerful magnifying glass, the precise observations of a smart Regency female and natural philosopher: it's noteworthy that while she comments on the self-inflicted disasters brought about by so-called rational men it's the women -- particularly Arabella Strange, Lady Pole and Flora Greysteel --who have the potential to transition from seemingly weak unwilling victims to unexpected but stronger survivors.

Strange & Norell is beyond superlative. There is so much to enjoy -- and I haven't even discussed the footnotes, which almost form a parallel narrative, or questions of morality, which arise almost on every other page. If you've read the novel you will know why this is an outstanding achievement; and if you haven't the only way to know if my statement is true is to read it yourself. I promise you won't regret it.

http://wp.me/s2oNj1-uskglass ( )
1 vote ed.pendragon | Jun 28, 2016 |
Not sure this is my type of book. The writing style is decent enough so I may come back to it but am setting it aside for now.
  ScoLgo | Jun 23, 2016 |
this was tooo strange for me, and hard to stomach. ( )
  winterslights | Jun 12, 2016 |
Usually I know how a book came into my life. A friend will recommend it, an author will blog about it, or it'll be in a library display. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell just appeared.

I've owned a copy of the book for quite some time, having picked it up for a steal at a book sale. Ever since I'd noticed the striking cover, I'd been seeing copies of it everywhere. But, since nobody I knew had been talking about it, I let it remain just a blip on my radar. It sat on my shelf, quietly waiting for me to pay it some attention, until this holiday season, when I finally brought it down and dusted it off.

I'm so glad that I gave JS&MN a chance. I loved getting lost in its pages for hours at a time and frequently found myself allowing mugs of tea to grow cold at my side as I forgot about them, utterly transported to Clarke's fascinating world. Looking back, the world is the main thing that kept me in the book. This is a book where not a lot actually happens, but is a fun time nonetheless.

This is probably because of Clarke's winning style. She writes poetically, painting vivid scenes and characters, but never allows her turn of phrase to become stilted or flowery. I found myself copying page after page of quotations into the little notebook I keep for such things. There were just so many phrases and snippets of scenes that struck me as beautiful and I wanted to keep for myself.

I recommend JS&MN to anyone who likes fantasy worlds that are not far removed from our own, British humor, and/or thinks the theoretical study of magic long dead sounds like a fascinating pastime.

Do NOT read JS&MN if you don't feel like getting into it for the long haul, because it's a hunk of a book. I did not enjoy lugging that thing around during my travels. But, I'm glad that I did. Also, if you're not happy unless there's a lot of stuff going on, you should probably leave this one alone.

This review has been cross-posted to my blog.
( )
  shulera1 | Jun 7, 2016 |
A lot of people have complained that this book is a bit of a slog, and it's true that it's VERY long and not always totally gripping... but in retrospect, I'm not at all sure I'd want to cut anything. I love how richly imagined this world is, how cynical the narration is about the usefulness of magic. I've spent years wishing for a more grown up, sophisticated version of Harry Potter, and this really scratched that itch. ( )
1 vote amydross | Jun 6, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 600 (next | show all)
"Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell" has been celebrated as an adult Harry Potter story, but it is more like a flatter and flabbier one. Chapters end with no cliff-hanging urgency, and the book is studded with unremarkable remarks. ...

Somehow, the gargantuan battle for the future of English magic does not become a matter of enormous consequence. But it does become the basis for a brand new fantasy world, an intricate and fully imagined universe of bewitching tricks. Maybe that's enough.
added by Aerrin99 | editNew York Times, Janet Maslin (Sep 14, 2004)
Her deftly assumed faux-19th century point of view will beguile cynical adult readers into losing themselves in this entertaining and sophisticated fantasy.
Many charmed readers will feel, as I do, that Susanna Clarke has wasted neither her energies nor our many reading hours.
Susanna Clarke, who resides in Cambridge, England, has spent the past decade writing the 700-plus pages of this remarkable book. She's a great admirer of Charles Dickens and has produced a work every bit as enjoyable as The Pickwick Papers, with more than a touch of the early Anne Rice thrown in for good measure.
"Move over, little Harry. It’s time for some real magic."

» Add other authors (13 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Susanna Clarkeprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bützow, HeleneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Merla, PaolaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Prebble, SimonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rosenberg, PortiaIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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He hardly ever spoke of magic, and when he did it was like a history lesson and no one could bear to listen to him.
In memory of my brother, Paul Frederick Gunn Clarke, 1961-2000
First words
Some years ago there was in the city of York a society of magicians.
At sixteen she spoke -- not only French, Italian & German -- which are part of any lady's commonplace accomplishments -- but all the languages of the civilized (and uncivilized) world. She spoke the language of the Scottish Highlands (which is like singing). She spoke Basque, which is a language which rarely makes any impression upon the brains of any other race, so that a man may hear it as often and as long as he likes, but never afterwards be able to recall a single syllable of it. She even learnt the language of a strange country which, Signor Tosetti had been told, some people believed still existed, although no one in the world could say where it was. (The name of the country was Wales.)
It is also true that that his hair had a reddish tinge and, as everybody knows, no one with red hair can ever truly be said to be handsome.
"Soldiers, I am sorry to say, steal everything." He thought for a moment and then added, "Or at least ours do."
"Can a magician kill a man by magic?" Lord Wellington asked Strange. Strange frowned. He seemed to dislike the question. "I suppose a magician might," he admitted "but a gentleman never could."
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Haiku summary
Two odd magicians
restore magic to England
and go kind of nuts. (marcusbrutus)

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0765356155, Mass Market Paperback)

It's 1808 and that Corsican upstart Napoleon is battering the English army and navy. Enter Mr. Norrell, a fusty but ambitious scholar from the Yorkshire countryside and the first practical magician in hundreds of years. What better way to demonstrate his revival of British magic than to change the course of the Napoleonic wars? Susanna Clarke's ingenious first novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, has the cleverness and lightness of touch of the Harry Potter series, but is less a fairy tale of good versus evil than a fantastic comedy of manners, complete with elaborate false footnotes, occasional period spellings, and a dense, lively mythology teeming beneath the narrative. Mr. Norrell moves to London to establish his influence in government circles, devising such powerful illusions as an 11-day blockade of French ports by English ships fabricated from rainwater. But however skillful his magic, his vanity provides an Achilles heel, and the differing ambitions of his more glamorous apprentice, Jonathan Strange, threaten to topple all that Mr. Norrell has achieved. A sparkling debut from Susanna Clarke--and it's not all fairy dust. --Regina Marler

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:06 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

In nineteenth-century England, all is going well for rich, reclusive Mr Norell, who has regained some of the power of England's magicians from the past, until a rival magician, Jonathan Strange, appears and becomes Mr Norrell's pupil.

» see all 8 descriptions

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