Monday, November 07, 2011

Currently reading

I've just this minute finished reading 'Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell' by Susanna Clarke. It's a massive book - the sort you could use to fell a burglar at twenty yards - and it's taken some getting through. Not because it's no good, but because these days I only really read in bed at night and by then my eyes are too tired to read more than a few pages at a time.

It was worth the lengthy reading time, though, because the book is simply amazing. Original, quirky, full of sly humour but also excitement and even the odd note of poignancy. Basically it tells the tale of two magicians in late Georgian England, but a Georgian England that's very different from the one we learn about in history lessons. This England has been shaped by magic, and by the reign of a magician king who held sway over a vast swathe of northern England in medieval times but has since disappeared. The two magicians of the title, Jonathan Strange and Gilbert Norrell, bicker and fight over the return of magic to England, with sometimes amusing, sometimes disastrous results.

The book is very, very long. Well over a thousand pages, and written in an old fashioned, Victorian-novel style that I thought was rather dry - for the first few pages, until I spotted the glorious, half-hidden humour underlying almost every sentence. In the end I think it probably is too long, and there were a few chapters after half-way but before the race to the end which dragged and which could easily have been shortened or even removed without affecting the story.

Overall, though, the sheer scale of the world Ms Clarke has created, the attention to detail, the frequent footnotes explaining this or that spell or historical event, make it less of a book and more of a fantasy tour-de-force. I loved it!


Shauna said...

I've been so disappointed lately.
Perhaps this book will be different.

I love the looong novels of Susan
Howatch, her earlier work.

Recently the best books for me are
the short little slick volumes.

Fiona Glass said...

Glad you found the review inspiring! I hope you enjoy the book as much as I did... although you might find your wrists aching after a while. It's heavy. ;)

Alx Draven said...

Isn't it delicious? If you enjoyed the world, look for her collection of short stories - Ladies of Grace Adieu, which are also lovely.

Fiona Glass said...

Oh, thanks for the tip! I didn't realise she'd written any short stories, although I did see she was apparently working on a sequel to this...