Book Review – Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell cover

Title: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell 
Author: Susanna Clarke
Genre: Fantasy/Historical Fiction
Date: 2015 (2004)
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 1006
Started: 12th July 2015
Completed: 20th September 2015
Rating: 5/5
Summary: Two magicians shall appear in England. The first shall fear me; the second shall long to behold me … The year is 1806. England is beleaguered by the long war with Napoleon, and centuries have passed since practical magicians faded into the nation’s past. But scholars of this glorious history discover that one remains: the reclusive Mr Norrell whose displays of magic send a thrill through the country. Proceeding to London, he raises a beautiful woman from the dead and summons an army of ghostly ships to terrify the French. Yet the cautious, fussy Norrell is challenged by the emergence of another magician: the brilliant novice Jonathan Strange. Young, handsome and daring, Strange is the very opposite of Norrell. So begins a dangerous battle between these two great men which overwhelms the one between England and France. And their own obsessions and secret dabblings with the dark arts are going to cause more trouble than they can imagine.’ – Amazon

strange and norrellJonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is a 2004 pseudo-historical novel written by Susanna Clarke. In 2015 it was adapted into a mini-series by the BBC which inspired a lot of people, including myself, to read the novel. Clarke is said to be writing a sequel to the book but there have been no updates on the sequel recently.

I do own the tie-in cover but I actually much prefer the original covers.

There’s a lot to like about this book. I’m not normally a fan of ‘historical’ novels but the fantasy element really hooked me. I actually enjoyed the fact that it was set during the Napoleonic Wars because it just made sense to set the book during the 19th century. It makes sense when you read it anyway.

Childermass is my favourite character. Mainly because he’s from Yorkshire and actually seems like a Yorkshire man, unlike Mr Norrell. I’m from Yorkshire myself which means that Childermass holds a special place in my heart. The other characters featured in the book are amazing too. I especially love the Gentleman, Lady Pole, Arabella, Stephen, and Jonathan Strange. Which is most of the main characters now that I come to think about it. Clarke describes each character in so much detail that you can see them when you’re reading the book. I loved Clarke’s use of description throughout the book and one of my favourite lines is “She wore a gown the colour of storms, shadows and rain and a necklace of broken promises and regrets.” Such beautiful imagery.

I loved that it was mainly set in England with trips to other European countries such as Italy and Portugal. I read so many books now that are set in the USA that it was nice to read something set in the UK. I also love that she uses Yorkshire, especially York and the Minster, as one of the settings for the novel. It’s just so special to read about your home county in a novel like this and I was at university in York when the mini-series was being filmed so I actually caught glimpses of the filming (even though I didn’t know what they were filming at the time).

I did notice that the book was being described as an ‘adult version of Harry Potter’ which I disagree with. One, Harry Potter is not just for children. Two, the magic in this book is so different to the magic of Harry Potter. I love that the book deals specifically with ‘English Magic’ as if each country has their own brand of magic which is deeply rooted within the history of the land. Also, the book explores the idea of parallel Faerie kingdom which has featured in literature throughout the ages (like in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream or in Arthurian Legends).

I really loved the references to other literature – especially Byron because I love Byron. I was so happy that he was included in the book because he was such an influential figure during that era.

There’s nothing that I actually disliked about this book.

Occasionally, Clarke’s spelling choices annoyed me but I’m just going to forget about that.

Oh, and a lack of sequel is somewhat vexing because the ending is very ambiguous. Hopefully she’ll write the sequel one day.

Overall, I really enjoyed the plot of the book and I liked the characters. Sometimes it felt like a chore to read because of the length but don’t let it put you off. Concentrate on the different volumes of the book if you find the length daunting.

I would recommend this book but I’d also recommend the BBC mini-series too if you’re unsure about reading the book itself. There’s not as much detail or plot in the mini-series but it’s still a very good adaptation and it’s very enjoyable.


3 thoughts on “Book Review – Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

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