Review: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

Jonathan Strange & Mr NorrellJonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is a decidedly unique book. Whether that is good or bad is a matter of perspective, but it is most certainly distinctive and different from almost anything else you’ll read.

Parts of this distinction are Victorian-esque spelling and grammar; detailed footnotes relating to imaginary books and stories to further worldbuilding; meandering plotlines; and incredible length, measured not just in pages or word count but in drawn-out pacing.

To cut to the point, would I recommend this book? Not to most people. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t good! It has charm, and kept my attention. But it is long and slow and indistinct–it really isn’t a book for everyone.

And if you do read it, save yourself the arm ache and read it as an ebook. I didn’t, and my book seems to have a cracked spine in a few places, despite my caution.

Anyway, what is the book about, you ask? Well, funny question: I went most of the book without being able to give a clear answer. It’s ostensibly about two Victorian-esque magicians who quite literally bring magic back to England. But it’s really not. It’s also not about a rivalry between these two; though it flirts with the idea, that’s a red herring. So basically it’s a book you should read if you’ve got time to kill and an interest in Victorian magic and glacially slow plots.

I do appreciate the writing. It must have been incredibly complex! There are layers upon layers here–but I just didn’t care that much. My biggest question, having finished it, is how in the hell in today’s publishing market it was allowed to be published in this format?! There was a lot here that I didn’t really need to read and which would have been easier to digest as two or three books in a series. The resolution would have been about as satisfying (ahem: not), and it would have given me a bit of a brain break from the wandering story. I mean, some people are really going to enjoy it–and it is masterful!–but that doesn’t inherently make it a good read.

Generally, you should probably just watch the TV show for this one.

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