Monday, April 20, 2015

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell





Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is a modern book, published in 2004, but masterfully written in the style of Jane Austen.  As anyone who has read this blog for long knows, I absolutely LOVE to read Austen.  She is one of my favorite authors.  So how is this book different?  It may have been set in Regency England and written with the same style of Austen, but it still falls into the category I typically read… Paranormal. 

So with that being said, you probably think I breezed right through this book… but you would be wrong.  It took me THREE MONTHS to read!  Why?  Well, that is a very good question… and it’s the same one I’m asking myself.  Of course there is the fact that it was REALLY LONG.   To put it in perspective Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (HPOP) is the longest of the Harry Potter books and according to Scholastic it contains 257,045 words.  Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (hitherto referred to as JSMN) contains 308,931 words (that’s approximately 17% longer, for you math people).  And yet, I have been known to read HPOP in just a couple of days so I guess that’s not my answer.

Some might think it wasn’t interesting… that could be a good reason to take so long to read.  Except that it was very interesting (especially Volume III).  I was intrigued by the storyline and almost as much by the footnotes, which lend an air of credibility to a fantastically odd book.  The footnotes alone, tell a story not quite separate from the main story, and yet complete in their own way.1  

I guess when I really think this through it boils down to 2 things… no matter how interesting this story was it lacked suspense.  It wasn’t a “page-turner.”  If you look back to my blog post {HERE} you can see that I am not much for overly suspenseful books.  In fact I have put more than one book down simply because it was TOO suspenseful.  But, as discussed in the previous post, all books do need some amount of suspense… this one just didn’t have much at all.

The second reason I think that I read so slowly is that it was remarkably easy to remember everything that had happened up to the point I left off at last reading.  I think this might have come mostly from it being so completely different from anything I had read before, but it certainly made it easy to put down for a couple of days and then come back to.  It also made it easy to read other books at the same time which is not something I typically do2 and yet I was always able to pick up JSMN without skipping a beat.

So after the longest intro in history (if we don't count the intro of the JSMN book itself) here is my review:

I loved the time period.  I loved that way Clarke took an incredibly, outlandish idea (that of magicians being distinguished English gentlemen and their profession one of the highest in the land) and made it believable.  I love that in all this there was never an ounce of foolishness which lent an air of credibility that I have not before encountered in any paranormal book.  It was written in the same forward, sensible way that a Jane Austen novel is presented… simply that this is how the world is and to think otherwise is ludicrous.  

I loved that part of what kept you reading through the first 192 pages of the book is that you still haven’t met Jonathan Strange, for whom the book was titled.  And I love that to the end “the gentleman with thistle-down hair” is just referred to as such and you never do know his name.3  

But I think the best thing about the book is how the powerful are brought low and the meek raised high.  In the end, yes, the magicians are the key, but it is the servants and the ladies who ultimately make the changes that need to be made.   It is the twist of the unnamed servant and the strength of Lady Pole, Arabella Strange, and Miss Greysteel that untimely bring the plot to fruition.   And yet, in the same solemn way the rest of the book is written, it is only in madness that Strange is able to obtain the magic he so desperately seeks.   This twist in itself is brilliant.  

So, without giving anything else away, I come to the main point of all my posts:  would I recommend this book?  The answer is a resounding YES!  Please just don’t get too put off by the sheer size of the book… remember, there’s nothing wrong with taking a while to read it.

I would also like to point out that I am thrilled to tell you that BBC is in the process of making this remarkable book into a TV series!  As I hope you know... if you want book adaptations done right, get the BBC to do it, which makes this even more exciting news.  To top it all off Toby Haynes, who is the director of Sherlock, is directing this as well!  Could it get any better?!?  The series is set to air on BBC America sometime in 2015.  Click {HERE} or {HERE} for more info.

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1. Many of the footnotes were used to explain stories that would have been common knowledge to the people of the day.  Most of them bits and pieces of what eventually tell us the story of John Uskglass, also known as the Raven King, who was the greatest magician England has ever seen.   But others of them are simply little notes as to where this or that spell was found in a book and what the magicians did to alter it for their own uses.   

2. In fact, I would like to point out, just for the sake of sounding pompous, that I read 19 other books during the same 3 months that I read JSMN.

3. After all, he is a fairy, so if we were to know his name it would give us power over him.  This is common fairy understanding after all.

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