Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke

I bought this on the strength of a recommendation by freelance journalist and regular MacBreak Weekly panelist, Andy Ihnatko. His recommendation was based on the fact that the audible version is 32 hours long and yet is still only one credit! Thus, one can ‘stick it to the man’ with this audiobook. Well, there was a little more to it than that. My interest was piqued and the review I read convinced me that I would enjoy it.

I found it to be rather a clever book in that it seems to rise above the geekish realm of fantasy and sci-fi and enter the mainstream. Yes, it is in essence a fantasy book, but not like any other I’ve read. There are no elves and goblins, no magic talismans, no underdogs coming into their powers and having to save the world from evil against the odds. Rather this is a tale of 19th century England and features such historical characters as Napoleon and Wellington.

The style is a literary one, reminding one of Jane Austen and the Brontes and the characters would not seem out of place in a Dickens novel.

We begin in the north of England, where practical magicians no longer, well, practice magic and the theoretical magicians read books on magic and discuss it in their clubs and societies. That is until Mr Norrell comes along, a practical magician intent on being the only one of his kind. He agrees to prove to the theoreticians that he can do magic, but makes them agree that, if he is sucessful, the theoretical magicians should give up magic all together.

Then Jonathan Strange comes along as another real magician and we follow the relationship between him and Mr Norrell throughout the tale.

The audiobook is read by Simon Prebble and he does a good job. I enjoyed the book a lot but do feel that it could have been shortened without losing too much. The constant footnotes became a little grating but I had got used to them by the end. I don’t think that I would read this again and I would be hesitant to recommend it to my fantasy-loving friends, but to those of you who do enjoy the 19th century novel, I’d have no hesitation in recomending it.


  1. Steve Betz says:

    [this is good] There was a point about 150pp into this book when I was very confused by the style and pace of the story — and considered stopping.  Like you said, it was unlike just about every other fantasy piece that I read.  I persevered and was really glad that I did, because I ended up really enjoying what in the end became a very personal story.

    I keep a little document of favorite quotes, and one from that book stands out…”There was a short silence during which time Mr Norrell found it impossible to meet Strange’s eye. “What do you want from me?” he asked in a low voice.
    “Only what I have always wanted — your help.” — to me, that was the whole crux of the story.
  2. That’s cool that you read it too. It took me about three attempts to get going as I found my mind wandering as I was listening. I too am glad that I persevered for it was ultimately a very enjoyable book.