Book review: “Jonathan Strange and Dr Morrell” by Susanna Clarke

“Magic is returning to England. Strange has found a way to bring it back.”

This book took me an age to read, I began on 1 August 2018 and finished it yesterday (October 28, 2019). It was just so long (1006 pages) and so slow paced. The updates I posted on Goodreads of my progress couldn’t all fit on one page.

Screenshot from 2019-10-28 09:06:02
Updates on Goodreads for the first 70% of the book

Set in the Regency Period, this is a story of English magicians, particularly the two of the title. If you are expecting a Hogwart’s for grown-ups you will be disappointed. Clarke has clearly read many Victorian and Regency writers and has the literary nous, but J K Rowling is much better at drawing you into her fantasy world created with characters who you really care about. We begin with Mr Gilbert Norrell, a keen collector of books on magic, who sees himself as the only practical magician in England, the others like those of The Learned Society of York Magicians are merely theoretical magicians. He impresses government ministers when, with the aid of a villainous gentleman with thistledown hair from the land of Faerie, he manages to bring an influential politician’s newly deceased fiancée back to life. He is then employed to contribute to the war effort against the French and he manages to create an illusory fleet out of rain to keep the French ships blockaded in their ports.
The book, I feel could have done with a good editor, it is incredibly long weighing in at over 1000 pages, there are flashes of brilliance but it is a long slog from beginning to end. We have to plough through a quarter of the book until we meet the second character from the title, Jonathan Strange, a second practical magician, who seems more of a natural at magic than the more scholarly Norrell. This book has copious footnotes, unusual in a work of fiction, relating often to fictitious tomes on English magic. There are also a few pencil drawn illustrations to give the book that 19th century look.

Illustration by Portia Rosenberg and footnote

The language is a kind of faux-Victorian with archaic spellings sprinkled liberally throughout the text like “chuse” and “shewed”. Some of the characters names like Drawlight, Childermass and Honeyfoot seem to have walked straight out of a Dickensian novel. Real historic characters like the Duke of Wellington and Lord Byron enter the story but do little to enhance the story. The characters are rather dry and chaste, the reader doesn’t get emotionally attached to them.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell
that is one thick book…

My rating : three out of five


One thought on “Book review: “Jonathan Strange and Dr Morrell” by Susanna Clarke

  1. Pingback: Review 2019 – Blog #2

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