Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
In England there is a society of magicians. Magic is studied theoretically but not practiced. Then Mr. Norrell challenges them. He makes a bet with them. If he can perform true magic, they must give up their theoretical practice. He wins the bet and now is England's only practicing magician. The ministers immediately see the advantage of his talent. He can help them defeat the French and Napoleon. Mr. Norrell is able to create illusions for the English.
Jonathan Strange is a young man who decides he is a magician. He is able to start rudimentary magic. Mr. Norrell takes him on as a pupil. But Mr. Norrell is very conservative, very selfish. He buys all the magic books that come forward. He only allows Strange to see a meager few at a time. His more precious books are kept in his country home where Strange is not allowed access to them at all.
Strange, on the other hand, is a man of passion. He has a young bride. He wants to do big magic. He chafes against Mr. Norrell's strictures. When the English ministers ask for a magician to accompany Wellington in the war against France, Strange joins them. When he returns to England a few years later, it is even more difficult for him to accept Mr. Norrell's restrictive tutelage.
This book has been touted as a wonderful, if long book. Susanna Clark is very descriptive, trying to capture the essence of the 19th century in her fantasy novel. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell has been added to many of the best books lists of 2004. I disagree.
The descriptive word that hit me about half way through was "ponderous". The book drags, in my opinion. Mr. Norrell is a miser, Strange is a bit wild, and the Raven King is unbelievable. I borrowed it from the library and read about a third before it was due back. I borrowed it again and got about half way through. Then I gave up. I can't care about the characters. The 19th century doesn't come to life for me in this book. The book feels heavy in my mind. Finally I couldn't see why I was wasting my time. I returned the book and really don't care if I never finish it.
Obviously my opinion is part of the minority. I was looking forward to it because I had heard good things about the novel. You may want to try the book and you may enjoy it. Fine, but don't expect me to try it again any time soon. There are too many other books I want to read. Maybe their literary caliber won't be as "high", but I'll enjoy them a whole lot more.
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These reviews are personal opinions only and in no way reflect other readers' opinions of the books discussed.
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