Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke book review

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell has a lot of fans. When I posted that I’d started it on social media, it received a lot of comments and praise from people who had already read it. When I posted I only had 100 pages left, it also received a lot of comments. It’s a very popular book with those who have read it.

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It tells the story of well… Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. Mr Norrell is the big magician on the block and then Jonathan Strange comes along and could well be a better magician than he. What ensues is a large rivalry that spans almost a decade – a rival that oft sees them be friends, enemies, antagonists and protagonists. It’s quite the epic.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell plot – 5/5

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke uses its many pages mostly wisely. It is a long book (my copy has over 1,006 pages of the actual story – not including acknowledgements etc) and it uses every single one of these pages to build plot, and character, tell stories, deepen the world and enhance your reading experience.

Set from 1806-1817, when England is at war with the French and the famous/infamous Napoleon Bonaparte, this book takes us on a journey focusing on, I’d argue Jonathan Strange more than Mr Norrell a tad, and how he goes from wanting to become a magician to actually growing into one of the, if not the, greatest magician of his time.

Whilst building his name as a magician, Strange obviously meets Mr Norrell who at the time is the biggest and most well-respected magician in all of England and so ensues their on-off relationship with one another which sees them bicker, squabble, respect one another, admire one another and inevitably become enamoured with each other’s lives and work.

The whole book is an epic. Not only is it long but it tells many great stories. We see both these characters live their best and worst lives, we see them see great success and the deepest failures. We also see other characters interact around them, and have their own lives and we’re told more of these.

And we can’t write about the plot without writing about the footnotes in this book. Now, I both read and listened to this and I think it may be the first book that I’ve read with footnotes. I must say, they’re executed incredibly well. Every footnote sits there to allow you to build a deeper understanding of the world if you wish. You’ll never misunderstand the plot if you don’t read a footnote though you may misunderstand a reference. Not only do they add to speech and characters, but they also build a deeper history and lore to this world that these two characters find themselves in and we as the reader find ourselves reading about. It’s wonderful.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell characters – 4.5/5

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell themselves have quite distinct characters. Strange is slightly more free-going, he wants to experiment with magic, push magic and see what benefits it can bring to England. Norrell on the other hand wants to jot everything down, stick to some quite strict rules and, as a result, potentially hinder the advancement of magic.

Of the two I preferred Strange (I think you’re supposed to) he seems to adventure more, do more magic and be willing to share his knowledge with the world in a more carefree way. Norrell, in my honest opinion, was slightly dull. Now, this isn’t dull in that he’s a poorly written character – on no – I believe he was purposefully written to be strict, regiment and fairly dull.

Strange is written quite early on to be the younger, better-looking, more exciting magician. Norrell’s more conservative way was all England had known so when Strange comes along and appears to be younger, wittier and brighter, it excites everyone. I love this dynamic and it’s a dynamic that continues throughout the book without ever getting out of hand or seeming too immature in how it’s handled (something that can often happen with this sort of relationship dynamic).

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell overall rating – 5/5

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is a 1,000-page epic. It’s a book many people will recommend once they’ve read it and it’s a book I’ll 100% recommend too. Yes, it features the concept of magic but you shouldn’t write this book off if you’re not into fantasy. It is more historical fiction than anything with the magic being used more as an occupation than some fantastical centre of the book’s focus. If you’ve got a couple of weeks to read a book, pick up Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, you won’t be disappointed.

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