Friday, 10 June 2016

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

by Susanna Clarke
Magic is not ended in England. I myself am quite a tolerable practical magician.
Gilbert Norrell

I don’t remember when it was the last time I found reading such a thick book so satisfying. Sure, it is long, at 782 pages and 185 footnotes, but not a bit tedious. The only reason it took me about four months was that I read it strictly on weekends, somewhere between going to bed and falling asleep. What I don’t understand though, why it took me more than ten years to start reading it. Ms. Clarke’s first (and so far the only) novel is a great story beautifully told, inventive, tasteful, with just right balance of general scariness and deadpan English humour. I didn’t care much for its protagonists, who, in spite of being “practical magicians”, are rather boring. On the other hand, I grew rather fond of the main villain, the nameless “gentleman with thistle-down hair”: vain and murderous but also generous and, well, charming. It’s a shame he is getting his comeuppance in the end. Or is he?

If you still need any proof that magic has not ended in England, or at least in Yorkshire, read this book.

“Spain is, as your Royal Highness knows, one of the most uncivilized places in the world, with scarcely any thoroughfare superior to a goat track from one end of the country to the other. But thanks to Mr Strange my men had good English roads to take them wherever they were needed and if there was a mountain or a forest or a city in our way, why! Mr Strange simply moved it somewhere else.”

The Duke of York remarked that King Ferdinand of Spain had sent a letter to the Prince Regent complaining that many parts of his kingdom had been rendered entirely unrecognizable by the English magician and demanding that Mr Strange return and restore the country to its original form.

“Oh,” said the Duke of Wellington, not much interested, “they are still complaining about that, are they?”

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