Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Leslie grabbed Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke by chance at the university library’s pop reading shelves.  I remember seeing it and thinking, “Far too long.”  Leslie got several hundred pages into it and then stopped.  Idly, because I had nothing else to read, I started it.  Perfect.  I like Trollope. I like his long digressions.  I like how his books are about 400 pages that carefully build to one scene.  I like how he gives you character through repetition. The same person, in the same setting, doing the same thing, over and over again.  Clarke pulls it off wonderfully.  It was for me the perfect blending of several genres: the Trollope novel of manners and personality (Mr. Norrell is so interesting), the Alan Garner novel of mystical England (why do they think there is so much special about their place, anyway?), and the sappy “I will find you” novel of … hmm… is there an archetypal novel or writer for that?  And the three are blended, so that you really are not sure that Jonathan Strange really thinks about Arabella all that much.  It is not clear whether he even remembers her, because mystical England is such an overwhelming presence.  Another nice review (there are many) is here.

Because these things need to be said, I should say it: all the main characters in Clarke’s novel are men.  The women are pretty, and passive (Arabella in particular).

About mkevane

Economist at Santa Clara University and Director of Friends of African Village Libraries.
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