This is not a book for individuals with attention spans the size of fruit flies.
Yes, it is long. Yes, it takes some imagination and thoughtfulness to appreciate. There are those however, who appreciate an author who doesn't insult our intelligence or try to manipulate us by telling us exactly how we should feel in every scene. If you need your story spoon-fed to you and refuse to do any of the intellectual heavy lifting required to appreciate good writing then this book probably isn't for you.
The story ultimately belongs to Jonathan Strange and his evolution from a callow and self-centered life of privilege to a man scarred by the losses of war and a literal darkness. Mr. Norrell's narrative is that of a man grown old, fearful of losing what he has, to see that it's nothing at all if he has no one to share it with. In this sense, it is NOT a story about magic, but about PEOPLE. It is the story of the relationship between Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, between Jonathan Strange and his wife, between Mrs. Strange and Mrs. Pol, between Mrs. Pol and The Man with the Thistledownhair, and so on... very rich, complex, interesting relationships.
This book has many rewards for those who open themselves to its beautiful language and the way its story unfolds - with grace and dignity. Not the least of its rewards is how Mr. Segundus' steadfast faith and love for the study of magic is rewarded in the end. It is unfortunate that it has been unfairly maligned in the reviews for not being what some people think it should be, which is shallow and unreflective.
This is Harry Potter for adults, but much, much better. This book was a labor of love for the author, taking 10 years to write. This really shows in the depth of the characterization and richness in the historical details, both real and imaginary. In JS&MN, Clarke created a parallel Regency England where the only difference to the real thing is the presence of magic. As I've always like fantasy novels with strong ties to reality (it makes the fantasy that much more palpable) I thoroughly enjoyed this conceit. It is rare that I feel like I learnt so much of history from a fantasy novel!
The narrator was very good and treated characters with deft subtlety. It's a long book with a slow start - I'd never have made it through if I weren't listening to it - but exceedingly well-crafted. Once I got into the meat of the story, I found myself sitting in the driveway after I'd gotten home listening, staying up late with my headphones on, and finding excuses to ditch things so I could keep listening.
The book starts exceptionally slow, dwindles around without much real literary effect, a lot of so and so went to visit so and so and said this.
That being said, once the book picks up, it's great, and is very interesting.
At first, I was taken aback by the languid pace and ambling nature of this story. But the excellent narration, whimsical invention and atmospheric "texture" of the tale won me over, about three hours into it. And then, as the story unfolded, I actually began to care less about the destination and more about the literary journey of the piece, which was rare for me - being a lover of modern mysteries.
From then on it was a pure pleasure, and even turned out to have a satisfying destination after all. Ultimately, it was a unique blend of historic and fantasy elements, presented with a whimsical freshness that I've seldom experienced in a book. After 30+ hours -- I was sorry to see it end.
An excellent title worth the wade through the book. Though dry at times Clark weaves an intricate tale of magic and history so well that it is often hard to determine what is fact and what is fiction. This is a book only for serious listeners, it will take time and patience but if you are up to the challenge you will find "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell" worth every minute you spent listening to their epic tale.
This was a delightful book to listen to, especially since the narrator Simon Prebble made the English characters really come alive. Many reviews have described this book as an adult version of Harry Potter and I guess in some ways it is like that series but I haven't read those books only seen the movies. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell had many unique characters and neat twists and turns. The use of footnotes to move the story along was especially unique. At many times I found myself wanting to reach out and shake sense into the characters so that they might discover the 'right path' or catch the meaning of someone speaking to them. At other times I found myself desiring to become a magician like that was at all possible. For me, one of the signs of a good author is if they can draw you into their story with an elaborate plot, descriptions, and metaphors, and Susanna Clarke definitely does that. Of course like any novel the twists and turns don't always go to your liking and the author seems to have left the door open for follow on editions. Though there are twists in the story I would change, if I had only half the talent of Ms. Clarke I would be writing this masterful novel not reading it.
Literature majors have to read a huge cross section of writing. Hopefully, at one time or another, they will learn that there are books out there that have every reason to be great works, but they just don't like them.
JS&MN is like that for me. I listened to the book twice, to give it a fair listening. When I was done my conclusion was that some books were, in fact, written to be read, not read aloud. The need to fall to foot notes or appendices for some given information would often break train of thought. This wouldn't happen while you were actually reading. Don't get me wrong, it does fit the genre and time period, it was just hard for me to sometimes stay in a slower section when some note came up about someone who is, perhaps, mentioned only in passing. Also the transition between one passage and the other isn't clear cut in a reading. For me, at the beginning, two of the characters, Black and Strange, get hard to separate.
Now, my whining aside, the book is an excellent choice. Ms. Clarke does a wonderful job at keeping faithful to the English arrogance of the era. You have to understand that it was just something that they expected, everything English was superior, from education to their society. Who wouldn't want to be English? But just when it is easy to become complacent, she sneaks a twist at the end that isn't shocking but unexpected.
If you are a listener who sits down to place your entire attention on a book, I cannot suggest JS&MN more. If, like me, you find yourself doing other things while you listen, this book might be one of those you have to stop and back up, to listen to something you missed.
The reading was superior, and I've heard a few that were not so I know. His inflection and rhythm are what a listener expects in a novel about England at the time of Napoleon. The casual air of assumed superiority in every situation was fantastic. In the future I will look up books based on their being read by Mr. Prebble.
From Austen to zombies!
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is a Victorian novel written at least 125 years too late. Set in a Britain where magic is part of history, the novel rambles along like a grandmother walking through a rose garden. It deals humorously and respectfully with its major themes: friendship and its attendant duties, and knowledge and who gets custody of it.
Listeners who aren't used to the Victorian "three-volume" style may find themselves adrift. My advice to people in this situation is to sit back and enjoy the tangents, footnotes, and side plots. They're all humorous and perceptive, much in the style of Charles Dickens.
Of course, just when your attention is completely turned toward all of that, the main story will rise up and bonk you on the head with its rolled-up umbrella.
Older readers and fans of the Austen/Dickens style will probably enjoy this more than the Harry Potter teens-and-tweens group. English Lit majors and academics will choke themselves laughing--be careful if drinking liquids while listening, that's all I can say.
Narrator Simon Prebble does an excellent job--in a novel with so many characters, he manages to make them all sound different. It's rather a time commitment at 32 hours, but even so, I thought it was too short, with an ending that felt a bit rushed. Still, highly recommended.
I'm trying to wean myself and learn to function without earbuds for more than ten minutes at a time. It hasn't been easy. I lose balance...
Adventure, magic, occultism, war, fairies, history and all done wihtout treating me like a moron like so many of the suddenly popular "adventure mystery" art history stories. This is a great story period. I'm hardly ever this happy about a purchase- color me a tough customer.This was so great I just bought the hardcover. But now what?!