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Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: A Novel by…

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: A Novel (2004)

by Susanna Clarke

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Clarke's Faerie Stories

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
20,63063771 (3.95)1 / 907
  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: A Novel by John Connolly (derelicious, jonathankws)
  5. 191
    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. 185
    The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud (clif_hiker)
  10. 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.
  11. 185
    His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik (Rodo)
  12. 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.
  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. 71
    Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner (spiphany)
  17. 60
    The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox (Anonymous user)
  18. 105
    The Prestige by Christopher Priest (Patangel)
  19. 50
    Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho (jen.e.moore)
  20. 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.

(see all 55 recommendations)

To Read (18)

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English (623)  French (5)  Japanese (2)  Italian (2)  Finnish (2)  Swedish (1)  Catalan (1)  German (1)  All (637)
Showing 1-5 of 623 (next | show all)
This was a very uniquely told fantasy story. It’s set in England (mostly) in the early 1800’s, and the author tells it in an authentic-sounding manner. It mixes in a bit of the real world with the fantasy world, and uses some archaic words like “shew” (show) and “chuse” (choose) to add flavor. There are also a lot of footnotes that add depth. The tone of the story, combined with the footnotes, often made it feel a little more like I was reading a historical text rather than a fictional story. Well, aside from all the magic and stuff, of course. :) There’s also some humor. It’s a somewhat dry humor that comes in large part from the despicable characters populating the story.

The basic story is that true magic hasn’t been seen in England for a very long time. When the book begins, we’re introduced to a bunch of argumentative men who call themselves “magicians” but in fact have never cast any sort of spell. They just study the history of magic, but they don’t practice it themselves or know of anybody who does. Then we meet Mr Norrell who, much to everybody’s surprise, is a “practical” magician – he can actually do magic. Mr Norrell has decided to make it his goal to bring magic back to England. But Mr Norrell does not have the type of personality you might expect, nor does he go about things in a way that might seem most effective to a rational reader.

It was an interesting story, and the writing was impressively done, but I was never very absorbed by it. It’s far more character-based than plot-based, which isn’t a problem for me, but there weren’t too many truly likeable characters in this book and some of them were downright awful. The book is broken up into three parts. The first part features mostly despicable characters, the second part gives more page time to some of the more likeable characters, and the third part picks up the pace of the plot more significantly. I thought the book steadily got better and better, but I still found it easy to put down. For all the depth and authenticity the author put into the setting and the characters, I wasn’t too thrilled with the magic itself. There seemed to be no real or consistent rules and, at times, it seemed terribly overpowered.

This book is 850 pages, not counting the footnotes that were all counted as page 850 in my Kindle edition. The footnotes made up the last 7%, which would be about 64 pages. So yes, this book was slightly tome-ish! If anybody reads this on a Kindle, be careful because some of the footnotes get cut off in the pop-ups. Many of the footnotes are quite long, some being practically short stories rather than ‘notes’. When reading on the Kindle, you can follow the link to go directly to the footnotes to make sure you’re seeing it all. In my case, I chose to read the book on my tablet instead, even though I don’t normally use it for reading. It was just a little easier, plus the footnote indicators stood out better on a color screen with their blue numbers and I didn’t want to miss any. I’ll be very happy to get back to my Kindle, but my tablet did give a slightly more realistic “weight” to my tome. :)

I have a couple of more specific comments that I’ll need to put within spoiler tags:
I thought the most interesting parts involved secondary characters. I was very interested in Childermass. I wish he’d played a more prominent role in the book, but the air of mystery surrounding him was part of his appeal. I also enjoyed the parts with Stephen Black quite a bit. Segundus was also interesting, what little we saw of him.

Jonathan Strange was somewhat likeable, certainly far more so than Mr Norrell. He was rash and a bit self-absorbed, but I liked his openness and his desire to spread knowledge. He seemed to have good intentions, even though his carelessness was sometimes a problem. Mr Norrell, on the other hand… ugh! Setting aside the fact that most of the problems in the book were the result of his selfish choices, he just had a horrid personality. I hate information hoarders, and he took it to extremes. He tried to suppress other magicians not out of genuine concern that they might cause harm, but because he was afraid somebody might equal or surpass his skills and siphon off some of his credit. He wanted all the glory for himself, and he cared more about his own pride than the greater good. He irrationally worked against his own stated objective of bringing Magic to England by actually suppressing it. Ok, yes, he struck a nerve with me. :) I guess that says something for how well-written he was if he managed to evoke so much dislike from me.

It was a little surprising to me, at least at first, that Norrell became so fond of Strange’s companionship, but I guess it makes sense that he would enjoy his first opportunity to converse with somebody who shared his interest in and aptitude for magic. Given Norrell’s history of dishonesty and selfish behavior, I imagine he will hinder Strange rather than help him solve their little curse of darkness, out of a desire to keep Strange all to himself.

Whew… I guess my review was a bit of a tome itself! ( )
1 vote YouKneeK | Jan 15, 2017 |
While this is a very fun book to read, if you're looking for depth, symbolism, a moral to the story, etc, read the Harry Potter books. This is much more like the Cecy and Kate books by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer. ( )
  aurelas | Dec 23, 2016 |
You know that awful feeling when you've gone so far in a book and committed yourself to finishing it, knowing all along that you dislike it, but keep hoping it might get get better, and knowing deep down that it won't? You can tell where I'm going with this right?

I did not like this book, but still give it a 2 star rating because otherwise I would really hate myself for reading this enormous tome for no good reason and wasting so much of my reading time. It's long winded, with little or no plot movement, and I'm astounded that it was ever published without further edits.

( )
1 vote Iambookish | Dec 14, 2016 |
3 1/2 stars

This is one huge, sprawling book. With an immense cast of characters. I generally read about 10 pages a day, or one chapter if it wasn't too long.
Each day, I enjoyed the reading. But when I finished, I looked back and saw, not so much a unified story, as a long progression of chapters. I guess what I missed most was any degree of character development. Stuff happened, the situation of the various characters changed, but they didn't seem to be learning much from all those changes.

I would add that Ms. Clarke's view of fairyland (spelling Americanized, I can't help it) and its inhabitants was totally unlike any other viewpoint I have ever encountered on the subject. It took me a while, but I came to think she also had a lot different view of the concept of a "gentleman" than I did. Maybe it's a British thing.

I also noticed, in the last part of the book, how she tied up a whole bunch of loose ends. That's when it really struck me just how many characters had wandered through the story. And yet, she left the two title characters without tying up their loose ends. That lowered it from 4 stars for me. ( )
  CarolJMO | Dec 12, 2016 |
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is long, a door stopper of a book clocking in at a whopping 1006 pages, and I could have kept reading for hundreds more pages. It is a unique thing, Dickensian, with elements of created history, footnoted like a text-book, with occasional dreamlike qualities. But, most of all, it is a love letter to books and reading and readers and libraries.

Over and over, Clarke references the importance of books to her two main characters, Norrell and Strange.1 In some ways, these two men are polar opposites, with Norrell standing for exclusion, for conservatism, and for control, and with Strange taking the liberal position of inclusivity, of opening up magic for the use of everyone. The fact that Norrell essentially strips England of access to magic by controlling access to books is monumentally important.

She talks about books in a way that acknowledges their importance. Up until Norrell, magic was something that existed only in books about magic:

"If they asked Norrell to do magic, there was always the danger that he might indeed do some. They did not want to see magic done; they only wished to read about it in books."

Norrell collects all of the books of magic (as opposed to about magic) and hides them away in his library at Hurtfew Abbey, allowing no one access to the books, including his pupil, Strange.2 He goes so far as to magically prevent Strange from publishing his book, altering all of the copies except for the one that he possesses and Strange's own book. When there is a falling out between Strange and Norrell, Norrell attempts to tempt him back into the fold by offering him access to the forbidden riches of his library. Strange, in fact, attempts to persuade parliament to pass a law forcing Norrell to give him access to books.

And, at the end of the book, the very last line, when Strange describes what he will be doing after the story closes, Clarke advises us: "He considered a moment and then laughed. "Think of me with my nose in a book!"

There are so many references and styles used by Clarke that it would take more than simply one reading to understand them all. Both Arabella3 and Lady Pole have distinctly Austenesque qualities to their characters. Of course, there are also Dickensian elements, and the distinction between North England (magical, fey) and the more prosaic South England echoes Elizabeth Gaskell.4

I know that there were a lot people who hated the footnotes, but for me, I loved them and felt that they added tremendously to the experience of reading the book. In some ways, they reminded me of the appendices to Lord of the Rings, creating an immersiveness and completeness to the world building that is a unique and remarkable accomplishment.

I have heard that Clarke intends to write another book in the same world, but focusing on Childermass and Vinculus (and hopefully Segundus, as well). Childermass is the Severus Snape of the tale to me - incomprehensible, with motivations that are unclear, and an importance that is obvious but not quite understandable, but interesting. I would love to read more in this world, and wait hopefully for the story to continue.

I would recommend this to people who love Victorian fiction, fantasy, alternative history, anglophiles, and aficionados of the comedy of manners. I thought it was lovely.
1 I find Clarke's ordering of names in the title to be very interesting. Her placement of Jonathan Strange first, when Mr. Norrell makes his appearance in the book first, is telling us, I believe, that Strange is the more important of the two characters. I am clearly a Strangeite.

2 In fact, he spends much time debating with himself over precisely which books are safe to show to Strange. He wants a pupil, but he is quite determined to remain master, and not allow his student to exceed him in knowledge. In spite of this determination, Strange turns out to be a much better and more proficient practical magician that Norrell.

3. Arabella, in particular, reminds me of Emma, right down to her last name of Woodhope, as opposed to Woodhouse, and her propensity to reform the people around her: "It was not that she did not love him; he was quite certain that she did, but sometimes it seemed as if she had fallen in love with him for the sole purpose of quarrelling with him. He was quite at a loss to account for it. He believed that he had done everything she wanted in the way of reforming his behaviour. His card-playing and other sorts of gambling had dwindled away almost to nothing and he drank very little now – scarcely more than a bottle a day. He had told her that he had no objection to going to church more if that would please her – as often, say, as once a week – twice, if she would like it better – but she said that she would leave such matters to his own conscience, that they were not the sort of thing that could be dictated by another person. He knew that she disliked his frequent visits to Bath, Brighton, Weymouth and Cheltenham and he assured her that she had nothing to fear from the women in those places – doubtless they were very charming, but they were nothing to him. She said that was not what concerned her. That had not even occurred to her. It was just that she wished he could find a better way to occupy his time. She did not mean to moralize and no one loved a holiday better than her, but perpetual holidays! Was that really what he wanted? Did that make him happy?"

4. See, generally, North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. ( )
3 vote moonlight_reads | Dec 11, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 623 (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 editionscalculated
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."
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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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