Thursday, August 07, 2008

"Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell" by Susanna Clarke

Wow, the publisher and editor must have had a lot of confidence in Susanna Clarke. This is one fat book for a first novel. And there are some bizarre (though consistent) spellings. Or maybe I was reading an English edition. (I just looked it up, and the one that I kept noticing, "shew", is archaic, according to Oxford, so I guess it's an affectation. Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

Why I read it: I must have seen reviews of it. I asked for it for two or three years in a row for Christmas, but nobody obliged (maybe because it's so long). So, one day I was at the library to see if any of the books I had requested were available (they weren't), and I wandered over to the paperback shelves, and there it was, so I picked it up. I had been idlely looking at the Bernard Cornwell titles, I think, trying to figure out which I had read.

What I liked: Pretty much everything. It's written very much in the style of a Dickens novel, and fortunately, I like Dickens. It's very funny, but a dry wit. The magicians are borderline incompetent, but can still do amazing things. I read a review somewhere (might have been one of the blurbs at the front), wherein the writer said the book made her question her knowledge of English history. Had there ever been a Northern King? It seemed so possible! Especially to us in North America, where we don't remember our English history so well. I loved the "real" characters that were worked in -- Wellington, Byron, mad King George. That made it just a little bit more believable.

This book reminded me a little of the Bartemious trilogy (Jonathan Stroud). maybe it was the gaslight/London mood, and the otherworld magic helpers. The magic seemed pretty well-defined in those books, and in this.

What I hated: Well, it was really long, and owing to other commitments (like work) it took me four weeks to read. Though I did read another book in that time...

I loved the ending. It's really nice to read a book that is 1006 pages long that doesn't require a sequel or six. Not that I hate series, but it was really nice to read a self-contained story for a change. I liked how it didn't wrap up everything. The characters are going to continue on, and English magic, well... I'm not sure if this would count as a spoiler, but one thing was festering in my brain. But the column of night. Well, all the other thistle-haired man's magic was undone. That made me think that the column of night might have been something that Strange accidentally did to himself? I really liked, though, that not everything had to be explained.

What I can steal: I can't really see myself writing something like this. The "about the author" said this book took ten years to write. I can totally see that. The history, the footnotes, also the whole petty rivalry between groups of men might translate in an interesting way to the whole karate thing I haven't written yet.

I already mentioned in a previous entry that I realized, while reading this book, that my fairies were too benign. Not any more! I guess that's another thing I stole. Though not wholesale. My fairies are very different than these, but not so innocent any more.

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