Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

With the number of books on my shelves that I haven't finished, and the list of books I still want to get from the library, I should never have an excuse to walk out of a store with a new book. But I was at Target the other day and picked up a great big, fat paperback with this review printed on it:
"A literary triumph...ravishing...superb...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." -Time
I'm not used to selecting my reading material based on the recommendations of Time magazine, but how do you resist a review like that?! Jane Austen and Tolkien?!

I quickly did the math ...850 pages for less than $13...that's less than 2 cents a page! What a steal!

So I got myself a new book called Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke. And it was just as awesome as the guy at Time made it sound! Here's an excerpt:
Mr Norrell determined to establish himself in London with all possible haste. "You must get me a house, Childermass," he said. "Get me a house that says to those that visit it that magic is a respectable profession - no less than Law and a great deal more so than Medicine."

Childermass inquired drily if Mr Norrell wished him to seek out architecture expressive of the proposition that magic was as respectable as the Church?

Mr Norrell (who knew there were such things as jokes in the world or people would not write about them in books, but who had never actually been introduced to a joke or shaken its hand) considered a while before replying at last that no, he did not think they could quite claim that.
Here's another one:
"I should like to do magic," said the fox-haired, fox-faced gentleman at the other end of the table. "I should have a ball every night with fairy music and fairy fireworks and I would summon all the most beautiful women out of history to attend. Helen of Troy, Cleopatra, Lucrezia Borgia, Maid Marian and Madame Pompadour. I should bring them all here to dance with you fellows. And when the French appear on the horizon, I would just," he waved his arm vaguely, "do something, you know, and they would all fall down dead."

"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."
But this is not just some cozy comedy of manners. It's a rejection of comforting, optimistic "modern" thinking, and at times it's tragic and terrifying. It's written in a quasi-academic style (complete with the best footnotes you've ever read) and as if it is contemporary to the events described (early 19th century,) which gives its rejection of Enlightenment philosophy a bit of a radical feel.

Not to make it sound like a manifesto or something! It's incredibly entertaining. It's a bit of Jane Austen, Lewis Carroll, George MacDonald, JK Rowling, and CS Lewis all rolled into one.


Steph Stanger said...

I'm glad you enjoyed you found a book so much! How has the man never heard a joke before?

Friar Tuck said...

My friend Becca ("Rebeccas Ruminations") had this on her book club blog.

seegeepee said...

I'm a big fan of this book. I hope that its critical and commercial success will lead to a followup...perhaps a prequel detailing the life of the Raven King?