Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (Bloomsbury), 782 pages, $29.95 cloth. Rating: NNN
Susanna Clarke reading Sunday (October 24) and interviewed Sunday (October 24). See listings page 44 for details.
Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange And Mr. Norrell unfurls a fantastic world in 19th-century England. In its tale of two magicians bent on restoring their lost art, all mirrors are connected by pathways, shadows turn to face away and little boxes are the colour of heartbreak.
This is a book full of witticisms, spells, hexes, faeries, historical references and cunning dry English humour. But the endless footnotes cut into the tale, distracting the reader whenever the story starts tripping merrily along, so attention has to be realigned every few pages.
But with all its narrative intricacies and devilishly clever humour, virtually nothing happens, which means that at 782 pages this book is entirely too long. The promise of excitement is very real, but Clarke never delivers.
Still, there are some absolutely brilliant moments and plenty of entertaining ones while you're following along in anticipation of some action.
It must also be noted that Clarke has written some very bizarrely constructed sentences and often makes common grammatical errors perhaps by design, but still irritating. It took her 10 years to write Jonathan Strange And Mr. Norrell, and the results are not unimpressive, but perhaps a couple of weeks should have been spent in search of a good editor.
As it is, Jonathan Strange And Mr. Norrell is slightly cumbersome reading for both the mind and the forearms.