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Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: A Novel Mass Market Paperback – Aug 1 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. There may be no better marriage of talents than that of Clarke and Prebble. The former spins an enchanting, epic tale of English magic in the age of Napoleon, and the latter brings it to life—footnotes and all—with a full-bodied voice, skill and aplomb that rivals that of noted narrator Jim Dale. Set in a world where the study of theoretical magic is common, but the practice of it is unheard of, this sweeping narrative follows the exploits of England's only two practical magicians, the bookish Mr. Norrell and the affable Jonathan Strange, as they struggle to revive the country's magic in very different ways. Mr. Norrell is content to publish opaque, opinionated pieces on magic's uses and misuses, but Strange is fascinated by the legend and lore of the Raven King, the so-called father of English magic. The voices Prebble lends these two disparate characters nicely reflects their personalities—Norrell's voice is brittle and sometimes shrill, but Strange's is pleasant and ironic. As the two magicians labor together to defeat Napoleon and then separately to pursue their own ends, an elusive faerie known only as the "gentleman with the Thistledown hair" watches and schemes. Clarke's novel likely contains close to 100, if not more, characters, and Prebble juggles them all with ease. Although the heavy price of this audiobook may deter some listeners, there's no better way to experience the material than to hear it performed by such a consummate actor. Based on the Bloomsbury hardcover
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Library Binding edition.
“What kind of magic can make an 800-page novel seem too short? Whatever it is, debut author Susanna Clarke is possessed by it.” ―USA Today on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“Ravishing...A chimera of a novel that combines the dark mythology of fantasy with the delicious social comedy of Jane Austen into a masterpiece of the genre that rivals Tolkien...What really sets Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell apart is its treatment of magic. Clarke's magic is a melancholy, macabre thing, confabulated out of snow and rain and mirrors and described with absolute realism ... Clarke has another rare faculty: she can depict evil ... [she] reaches down into fantasy's deep, dark, twisted roots, down into medieval history and the scary, Freudian fairy-tale stuff. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell reminds us that there's a reason fantasy endures: it's the language of our dreams. And our nightmares.” ―Time
“Clarke's imagination is prodigious, her pacing is masterly and she knows how to employ dry humor in the service of majesty.” ―The New York Times on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“Unquestionably the finest English novel of the fantastic written in the last seventy years. It's funny, moving, scary, otherworldly, practical and magical, a journey through light and shadow--a delight to read, both for the elegant and precise use of words, which Ms. Clarke deploys as wisely and dangerously as Wellington once deployed his troops, and for the vast sweep of the story, as tangled and twisting as old London streets or dark English woods. Closing Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrel after 800 pages, my only regret was that it wasn't twice the length.... From beginning to end, a perfect pleasure.” ―Neil Gaiman, author of Anansi Boys, American Gods, and the Sandman series
“Immense, intelligent, inventive...Clarke is a restrained and witty writer with an arch and eminently readable style.” ―Entertainment Weekly on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“Over the course of nearly 800 pages Clarke channels the world of Jane Austen, the Gothic tale, the Silver-Fork Society novel, military adventure à la Bernard Sharpe or Patrick O'Brian, romantic Byronism and Walter Scott's passion for the heroic Northern past. She orchestrates all these fictive elements consummately well...Many books are to be read, some are to be studied, and a few are meant to be lived in for weeks. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is of this last kind.” ―The Washington Post on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“Combining folklore and fantasy with horror-story imagination, [Clarke] creates a Napoleonic-era England alive with the promise--and danger--of uncontrollable forces...Clarke's sober style keeps the fantasy grounded, and meticulous historical research brings the magical episodes to terrifying life.” ―People (Critic's choice, four stars) on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“The most sparkling literary debut of the year.” ―Salon on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“Mesmerizing.” ―Harper's Bazaar on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“This 800-page work of fantasy--think Harry Potter sprinkled with the dust of Tolkien and Alasdair Gray--posits an extraordinary alternative history of England where magic, fairies, spirits and enchantments were once part of everyday life...This incredible work of the imagination, which took Clarke more than 10 years to write, ends all too soon.” ―New York Post (four stars) on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“Here is a writer who remembers that true fairy tales carry a sting and the creatures themselves were never properly domesticated to the nursery. Her uncanny book is an object lesson in the pleasures--and risks--of enchantment.” ―Village Voice on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“Gorgeous...A terrific, phenomenally ambitious book.” ―The Onion on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“An instant classic, one of the finest fantasies ever written.” ―Kirkus Reviews (starred review) on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“Extraordinary...Will enchant readers of fantasy and of literary fiction alike.” ―Publishers Weekly (starred review) on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“A smashing success...History and fantasy form a beautiful partnership in this detailed, authentic, and heartfelt novel.” ―Booklist (starred review) on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“Wonderful. At almost 800 pages, it is an immense, densely plotted story, peopled with a a vast cast of extremely well-drawn characters, filled with unexpected events, ancient prophesies,varied and exotic settings, and all manner of human and inhuman conflict, and it is built one splendid scene upon the next.” ―Toronto Globe and Mail on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell comes across as equal parts Jane Austen and Charles Dickens flavored with Rowling and Tolkien. It's inarguably one of the year's best and most original works.” ―National Post (Canada)
“Combines the wit of Jane Austen with the subterranean spookiness of the works of Arthur Conan Doyle.” ―Seattle Times on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“An enthralling, unique read.” ―Baltimore Sun
“Witty dialogue, cunning observations, and intriguing footnotes...[A] sweeping adventure full of telling details, mixing history and fantasy to create worlds of deep imagination that seem as real as our own.” ―San Francisco Chronicle on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“While Jonathan Strange is every bit as whimsical and playful as the Harry Potter books, it is also grave and upsetting, the very opposite of comforting children's entertainment...Clarke has delivered a book of universal truths and unexpectedly heartbreaking acuity.” ―Fort Worth Star-Telegram
“Utterly enchanting. [Clarke's] union of historical fiction and fantasy is fresh, it is surprising, and it will appeal to those who want nothing more than to be carried away to a world crafted by a superb storyteller.” ―Denver Post on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“Extraordinary...If Harry Potter is the kind of book that makes you want to be a kid again, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is the kind of novel that will remind you that being an adult should be a whole lot more fun.” ―Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“I found it absolutely compelling. The narrative drive is irresistible and I could not stop reading until I had finished it. The narrator's tone is beautifully judged. It's full of wonderfully deadpan humour and its reticence leaves the reader to make up his or her mind about the characters. I loved all the invented scholarship and was fascinated by the mixture of historical realism and utterly fantastic events. I almost began to believe that there really was a tradition of 'English magic' that I had not heard about. The author captures the period and its literary conventions with complete conviction. And a large part of the fun is seeing how an early nineteenth century novel copes with the impact of magic. It's an astonishing achievement. I can't think of anything that is remotely like it.” ―Charles Palliser, author of The Quincunx, on Jonathan Strange & Mr NorrellSee all Product description
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Top customer reviews
I must say that I was thoroughly impressed by Susanna Clarke's book start to finish, even though reading it was an ambitious undertaking in the weeks following my first child's birth. I won't pretend to be too objective, then, when I say that the amazing tale of the two English magicians has in a sense become intertwined in my imagination with a very magical time of my own life.
I can see why it would be so polarizing, however, especially in a post-Harry Potter world. People hear "England and Magic" and reckon that they'll get some thrilling quidditch action and some tender insights into the joys and hurts of growing up, but that's not to be found here. Instead, we get a wonderful and at times whimsical mash up of classic Regency-era literature (like Pride and Prejudice or Vanity Fair with modern-day magical realism along the lines of One Hundred Years of Solitude or Midnight's Children.
The huge page count, the interminable footnotes (many of which, incidentally, are more amusing and creative than the main story they append), the coy affectation of period spellings like "shew" or "surprize"...in a lesser book, these seeming indulgences would be infuriating, but the way they are employed by the author was brilliant, they just drew you in even further. Also, it becomes apparent only over many many pages that this is not just a work of alt-historical fiction, positing strange events during a time and at a place well known to most readers of English Lit, but a sly redesign of English history to render a fantasy setting at the same time familiar as it is uncanny. Well known figures from the period such as King George III (the "mad" one), the Duke of Wellington and even Lord Byron play active parts as well as Ms. Clarke's beautifully rendered duo and their assorted friends, foes and contemporaries.
Was it absolute perfection? Of course not. I particularly didn't care for Lascelles sudden turn to sociopathy, or his saw-it-coming-a-mile-away ultimate demise But a tour-de-force, and a unique, humorous, and moving reading experience start-to-finish that I cannot recommend highly enough to those with the patience and the time to devote to it.
I actually study 19th century England for my doctorate and in doing so I have to read works from that period. What I find amazing is that Clarke is able to skilfully mimic the diction and way of speaking that was common at the time. Its as if she cam from some kind of parallel universe to give us a report on what events occurred in her world. And the footnotes add a delightful sense of verisimilitude!
Read and Enjoy!
But Susanna Clarke dazzles in a subtle way in her debut novel, "Jonathan Clarke & Mr. Norrell," a sprawling opus that took a decade to write. Think if Jane Austen had written fantasy about feuding magicians, and you'll have a pretty good idea of how this reads.
It's the early 19th century, in England. The Napoleonic wars threaten England, but that's not the only struggle going on. Magic is all but dead in England; the so-called magicians don't actually want to handle it, but want to leave it to old books and stories. Once the English magicians were powerful and respected, but now they just write boring essays about magic. Except for Mr. Norrell, a cautious little Yorkshire man who taught himself how to do magic.
However, things take a twist when he gives his help in the battle against Napolean -- a new magician enters the scene, the enthusiastic and charming Jonathan Strange. The two magicians begin to work together, but things begin to go awry when Mr. Norrell realizes that Jonathan is attracted to all magic -- including the more dangerous varieties. He's increasingly fascinated by the legend of the Raven King, a changeling child who ruled Faerie and Earth...
Historical fantasies have rarely been as detailed and rich as this one -- usually either the "historic" or the "fantasy" is abused. Often the best authors can do is write alternate universe stories where America lost the Revolution, the Roman Empire never fell, and so on.
But Susanna Clarke shatters that with her richly-realized look at 19th-century Britain, with unique magic and a slight mythologic twist. This is an England where, even though magic is stagnant, it's still something of rich power, awesome presence, and the creatures involved in it are completely otherworldly.
Clarke keeps her writing solid, detailed and dignified, also footnoting extensively, with little wry winks and nudges to keep the book from being too serious. It does get tedious at times, and the finale gets a bit stretched out, but the positive far outweighs the negative. She has a flair for the historical parts of the book, keeping dates, battles, and political movement entwined in the plot.
But she doesn't neglect the fantasy either; there's a mythic flavor in the story of the Raven King and the old magicians, reminiscent of old legends from ancient times. Her handling of magic is especially good -- less is more, and hints of past greatness make the magic all the more stunning.
The title characters are the best of the book -- both are products of their times. Mr. Norrell is cautious, studious, ingenious and quiet, the sort of person you could imagine chatting with some classic author. Strange has more of the wild, society-be-damned wit that characterized some great artists of that time. And Norrell's faithful servant is just one of many solid supporting characters.
If Jane Austen had written like Diana Wynne-Jones, the result would have been something like "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell." Well-written, enticing and thoroughly original, this is a keeper.
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