View Full Version : Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell

08-17-2006, 03:03 AM
I'm not expecting a lot of replies, if any, but has anyone read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell by Susanna Clarke? If so, what was your reaction to the book? I picked this book up at Border's and haven't read it yet. It seems to have received a lot of good reviews especially by Times magazine. I'm in the process of finishing a book and will be making my next choice of reading between Jonathan Strange and Dispatch, a horror novel by Bentley Little.

08-17-2006, 03:40 AM
I read the first half of it or so. I found the voice engaging, even enjoyed the footnotes, but when I hit page 100 (or 200? it was pretty far in), and realized I hadn't met the protagonist yet, and nothing had happened, and it looked like nothing would ever happen, I skimmed a page or two every 50 pages to see if things would pick up, and saw nothing to keep me reading.

OTOH, I've been told by writers I respect that they just loved every word of it and found it extremely emotional, loving the ending that left me just shaking my head and saying "Huh?" (Which might, of course, been b/c I only skimmed about 2/3 of the book, looking for story.)


08-17-2006, 04:40 AM
Well, it looks promising. I'll read it before the Bentley Little book. I looked at the print size of Jonathan Strange and I have to say that fifty pages with nothing happening is quite intriguing. It must have been extremely engaging to read if the book is as slow as it sounds.

08-29-2006, 03:39 AM
I also bought this book, but won't have the time to read it for awhile. The story sounded so interesing, and I haven't enjoyed a really good story about magic since Peter Straub's Shadowland. I skimmed through the book, and the illustrations were a nice surprise.

08-29-2006, 08:05 AM
I got a copy last year in NZ. Read it on the plane to Japan. Promised myself I'd re-read but haven't yet. It's one of those slow deep books that needs concentrated reading and I'd just finished the third part of the Barteamus trilogy (Author?) which is a very different voice and style so found it hard going in places.

I liked my first reading but with certain reservations. Will now go and reread. Thank you for prompting me.

Must point out that I am always deeply suspicious of hyped up novels as they can never live up to the hyperbole.

Lauri B
08-29-2006, 06:13 PM
I just came upon this thread. JS & Mr. N was THE big book of the 2004 (or maybe 2005) Book Expo America--huge numbers of galleys given away, giant signs everywhere, etc. I picked up a galley copy and was really looking forward to reading the book. I forced myself to read the whole thing--honestly, it needed another round or two of cutting. The book was good but could have been at least 300 pages shorter with no real loss of character or plot. I think this is an instance where more was absolutely not better. I won't read it again, primarily because by the time I finished it, I was so relieved to have made it through that I didn't particularly care what happened.

08-31-2006, 03:39 AM
I was really looking forward to reading this book. It fell outside of my expectations. My comments about it run along the same lines as those others have posted. I liked many aspects of the story, including both title characters, and I liked the author's style. But I agree with those who said it could have done with massive editing. I believe I was reading the story carefully and faithfully, yet I still got bogged down at times. I think that interfered with my ability to stay engaged with the characters' lives.

I doubt I'll ever read JS & Mr. N again, though if there were a sequel or some new story related to these characters, or a different story by this author within the same genre, I'd definitely check it out.

Saint Fool
10-19-2006, 07:27 AM
I found the book a slow read but I enjoyed it ... until the end which I found to be emotionally unsatisfying and reeking of sequel. I won't spoil it by going into specifics but I was not a happy camper and glad that I had waited to check it out from the library rather than buying it.

04-09-2007, 02:12 PM
Couldn't find a thread for this, although maybe there is one, buried somewhere. Anyway, could someone please explain why this story is supposed to be so good?

Sure, I understand that the way Susanna Clarke uses fictional historic footnotes, has excerpts of whole fictional books about magic filling the pages etc., means she's a skillful writer, with an impressive bag of tricks. But the story. How boring. I don't like the characters, any of them, far less give a flying whatever about what happens to them. I don't care if Mr Strange's fiancÚ is dead. I don't care who is the better magician. And to me, that's enough to put the book down, unfinished.

Any other opinions?

04-09-2007, 06:14 PM
I'm not a fan either. I was good with the beginning, got a kick out of the footnotes, and then she lost me when, around page 200 (IIRC), I realized I had just then met the real protagonist of the story, and everything up to there was backstory, and, even worse, I realized that I didn't like or even empathize with ANYONE in the book.


04-09-2007, 07:09 PM
Glad I'm not alone with my view. Whenever I'm reading a book where I don't care if the protagonist were to die on the next page, I know I won't be able to finish. Life's too short (and that particular novel too long).

04-09-2007, 07:15 PM
I loved this book, and loved The Ladies of Grace Adieu as well. I call her style Jane Austen on 'shrooms: if Jane Austen had taken mind-altering substances, she wouldn't have written Kubla Khan like Coleridge, she would have written very controlled comedies of manners about gentleman-magicians with three-page-long footnotes that are short stories in themselves. It's the barely-controlled mayhem below the surface of the very mannered outside that is enjoyable in these books. There's just something right there below the surface that you can't always get at. Anyway, I really like them. :) I think you have to appreciate the genre of comedy of manners to appreciate these.

04-09-2007, 07:32 PM
It was dry as toast, but I quite liked it. I can't really explain why, I just did. I couldn't put it down. I never know how a story will grab me until I get into it and it grabbed me.

04-09-2007, 07:58 PM
I think you have to appreciate the genre of comedy of manners to appreciate these.

Oh but I do. In Austen's case anyway. And Wilde's. Or Woodehouse's.

But I didn't like the characters here so it failed for me. I do understand your point though.

04-09-2007, 09:22 PM
I have said before, to me, the book must hold some of the magic it describes, because it's slow, ponderous, lacking in any real dynamism, and I still enjoyed.

She hints and suggests and never totally reveals or pays-off, and possibly this is what I liked. Speaking for myself and wishing to offend no-one, I'm tired of the stuff, on tv, in movies, and in books, where everything is broken down to ensure the audience gets it.

There's none of this here. And I appreciate that. I have to work at it, and in some cases I'm free to bring my own interpretations.

She does, however, try something that is really difficult to do. The eponimous characters are not endearing. Their flaws are many and varied, and it is hard to like them, let alone identify (because in doing so, we must recognise our own flaws). Yet I think there is a very strong vein of hope in the book. Because if these two selfish, self-absorbed asses can set aside their feelings towards each other and work for a common goal, then we can do the same.

I wouldn't say I'm eagerly awaiting the next installment, now that the magic has returned, but I'll probably buy the hardback.

The Lady
04-10-2007, 02:26 AM
I read the book when it first came out, over the course of a weekend or at the very most three days. I adored it. I loved the amount of ideas upon ideas. I loved everything about it except for the 100 or so extra pages that should have been edited out and the ending which was a bit of a damp squib. But other than that I'd give it 9 out of 10 and let me tell you, it's a rare book these days that scores that high.
I can't remember why I loved it so much, just that it was damn good.

04-10-2007, 05:32 AM
wading through treacle wasn't it?

A slow, surreal, almost gothic read. Loved the Jane Austen on drugs writing a comedy of manners suggestion. That's exactly it.

Loved the book, though yes, I thought it needed a hard edit. Whoever said 100 pages shorter was about right.

If this one is too heavy and slow try Jonathon Clark's (Clerk's?) three books on a similar subject but with a Genii as a main character. Bartholomew trilogy?

Sorry, snitching time from a class so can't check references.

Claudia Gray
04-10-2007, 06:17 AM
I really, really enjoyed this. I did feel that it started slow and would have benefited from a good pruning, but ultimately I felt that it gained in emotion and strength as it went on, and by the end I was more than willing to forgive the draggy beginning. Although neither Strange nor Norrell were immediately endearing, I came to appreciate them both as characters and loved the bittersweet turns of their relationship. Finally, Strange's adoration of his wife really, really got to me.

When there's that much of value in a book, I'm more than happy to forgive a writer's eccentricities.

04-25-2007, 10:07 AM
This was one of those big printing/huge promotion deals. Since I saw the book everywhere, I bought it and read it. I hated it. In fact, I don't remember a word of it so it left no impression at all.

I feel the same way about that "Crimson Petal and the White" novel. Same situation: huge printing, huge promotion, worthless book. A lot of trees died for this.

The Lady
05-02-2007, 05:04 AM
This was one of those big printing/huge promotion deals. Since I saw the book everywhere, I bought it and read it. I hated it. In fact, I don't remember a word of it so it left no impression at all.

I feel the same way about that "Crimson Petal and the White" novel. Same situation: huge printing, huge promotion, worthless book. A lot of trees died for this.

No, say it ain't so. I promise you this book is quality. Seeing as you have it at home, try it again sometime.

05-11-2007, 09:02 PM
Wow, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell in 3 days? That's astounding.

05-21-2007, 12:02 PM
I got through the first half of the book, after putting it down 4 or 5 times. Then, I finally gave up. Don't know if it was the way it was written or my neurological limitations (probably a combination of both) but I couldn't follow the story and I couldn't hold the pieces of the story long enough for it to have any continuity. Some chapters were easier to follow and more self-contained but others just didn't connect for me.

Anne Lyle
05-25-2007, 02:34 PM
It took me two attempts to read it, because on the first try I found the beginning just so slow - but I was glad I persevered. I agree that it would have been better for a good pruning to lift the pace just a little.

I bought it partly because she's a local author and partly because I had read and enjoyed a book (ironically, one that was barely more than a novella) by her partner and mentor, an established, though not famous, SF author (Colin Greenland).

Having just read the article about her on Wikipedia, I am now looking forward to the sequel, which will be about the lower-class characters (Childermass and Vinculus), who always struck me as more interesting than her stuffy magicians :)

05-25-2007, 10:04 PM
I read up until page 500 or 600. Like others, I loved her style of writing, but then I made the fatal mistake of asking myself, "What's happened?" And I had no answer. Then I asked, "Well, what do the characters want?" Again, nothing. After I had the same response for "Well, what's the general plot, where's the story going?", I had to put it down. It felt the whole 600 pages I'd just read had no purpose whatsoever.

Oh, and I love Jane Austen. She's my favourite author.