Clarke, Susanna: (01) Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (re-read)

I am quite sure I did not love Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell this much the first time I read it, and I can’t imagine why. This time I basically wanted to roll around in it and never come out again, and indeed ended up immediately re-reading the last third to stave off withdrawal.

The prose is amazing. When I was reading, I couldn’t help posting three characterization-focused quotes from just the first four chapters over at my journal. Even the chapter titles are perfect (“The ashes, the pearls, the counterpane and the kiss”). And both the eerie numinous and the humor are finer than I recalled.

I think I also appreciate more, this time, the argument it’s making about what it means to be English (via the nature of English magic). Granted, I am not English, so it is an argument that I can only look at from the outside, but at least with regard to race and gender, it strikes me as a position worth aspiring to.

Really, I know it’s cliché to say so, but the experience it reminded me most of was the last time I read Pride and Prejudice and made comparisons to chiming crystal—not just regarding the book and its quality, but how it made me feel, like I was vibrating all over with delight. And now, writing it up months after the fact, I am fiercely tempted to go and re-read it all over again. Gosh, I love this book.

(Two minor notes. First, the footnotes are not academic, that is, were not inserted by a present-day editor into a historical text. They were written by the same narrator as the main text, a narrator who is omniscient yet an individual (and female), in the same way that (again) Pride and Prejudice‘s narrator is. See chapter 5, note 4 for the same narrator (who says “why I do not know” in describing Mr Tubbs’ actions (emphasis added); and see chapter 40, note 3 for the furthest specific chronological reference in the entire book, as far as I can tell (1836, the death date of the Duke of Wellington’s horse).

(Second, a minor spoiler (ROT-13, see sidebar): fheryl gur snzvyl va gur ynfg puncgre, jvgu n pyretlzna sngure, guerr qnhtugref (vapyhqvat ng yrnfg bar cnffvbangryl svrepr bar), naq bar fba, ner n ersrerapr gb gur Oebagrf?)

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  1. I have also posted a set of fanfic recs for those who don’t object to such things.

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