I have been meaning to read Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell for a good while now – ever since I read Maggie Harcourt’s Unconventional, where it is mentioned as the main character’s favourite book. Somehow I have never got round to it.
However, I was browsing the bookshop at Cheltenham Literature Festival and it was just sitting on the shelf waiting for me. It was clearly a sign so I bought it.
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.
I started this book with very little knowledge of its content, beyond the fact that it is about two magicians. I was expecting a very fast paced, exciting read and was somewhat surprised to find that it is in fact quite slow and gentle. There is of course plenty of magic – which is inherently exciting – but the book isn’t really a page-turner.
That being said, I loved reading it. I enjoy long (1006 pages), slow books – especially at this time of year. For me it was the perfect accompaniment to an evening spent curled up in front of the fire. The characters are engaging – a must for me – and I genuinely cared about what happened to them. I also felt at a loss when i had finished it which is always a sign that I have been truly involved in a book.
This is a perfect read for long winter evenings and I will definitely be recommending it.
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke