Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell Appreciation Thread

I just finished reading the marvelous Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. This book was a joy to read. As I read, and re-read the book’s final paragraph, I found I had both tears in my eyes, as well as goosebumps up and down my arms.

There were times when I was reading this book when I had to put it down, I was so thrilled with the story, with the writing, with the sheer pleasure of reading it. Do you remember thanking Charles Dickens in your mind for writing Bleak House? You may also wish to thank Susanna Clark after you’ve read Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.

And this is her first novel. Hooray, hooray!

I, too, loved this book.

One of the things I was most impressed by was how well she kept the novel in a 19th century mode. As far as I can remember, the narrative never enters any character’s thoughts – we may get a “Strange looked pensive” or “he brooded for a time,” but we never hear anyone’s stream of consciousness, which is absolutely appropriate and quite an achievement.

I have noted in other places that a reader needs to like 19th century novels to really enjoy Jonathan Strange. But it certainly does reward those readers.

So, I’m 40 pages into it and really disappointed. There are some great ideas in there, clever scenes and all, but damn, is it really trying hard. And what’s with those damn footnotes? I feel like I’m in some sort of David Foster Wallace throwback (or was it Dave Eggers?).

I was hoping to run through this at about 100 pages/day, but it seems like it took me nearly two hours to get this far. Is the book just more of the same, or does it lose its infatuation with its own voice?

The only 19th century writer I’ve read much of is Emile Zola, and a comparison with Norrell would be apples and oranges. I haven’t read Austen or Dickens or any of the other writers Clarke is being compared to.

I’m really glad that so many people are getting pleasure from the book. I stopped reading a couple hundred pages in, but may well try again someday.

FYI, New Line picked up the rights for a movie based on this book.


I loved the footnotes! And I am really not a footnote type of reader.

Loved the entire book.
Susanna Clarke created an entire world and never faltered once.

Loved it, loved it! I dig Austen and Trollope most of the big 19th century English writers, and so I did adore the style Susannah Clarke used. I didn’t really feel like it was trying too hard, she seemed to have a natural feeling for the cadences of the language. I particularly liked the Dickens touch - that it seemed to have been written in retrospect, a few decades after the events that took place in it. I loved the little touches like “you will remember learning in school”, that set the period so nicely. And of course it helps that I’m a giant fan of footnote heavy fiction. Pale Fire is one of my all-time favourite novels, so I can’t help finding the use of footnotes for foreshadowing and to give the reader information that the protagonist seems to be overlooking endearing.

I loved the footnotes, more than the story, actually. I was much more engaged by the characters and events related in the footnotes than I was by the main story.

Not all Englishmen have the same size feet.

I would advise sticking with it…if you can…for a while. I found the first 200 pages or so rather slow and not terribly engaging. (although I loved the footnotes). But those slow pages in the beginning really make the middle and end (particularly the end…the last 200 pages or so I could not put down) pay off. The first half = meandering character study, the last half = plot driven action (of a sort of intellectual sort). The character study part gets one very invested in the characters. The SO thought much the same.

This may be one of those books where I read a chapter a day and then, two years later, I finally finish…

Best book I’ve read in a while. Particularly loved “shew,” “shewed,” etc. Nice touch. I shall speak like this from now on. =D


Oh man, but I loved this book! I bought it for burundi for Christmas, but she read other books first, so I snatched it up. I’m no big fan of nineteenth century literature–Jane Austen bores me to tears–but this was just delightful to read.


Another who was really delighted with the book. A pure pleasure to read.

Is it just me, or is there a lot of really good fantasy literature comming out reasonably recently?

It seems to me that, for decades, fantasy as a genre was overshadowed by LoTR, to the extent that much fantasy was in essence inferior copies of Tolkien - or was outcompeted by science fiction. Nowadays, fantasy seems (in general) more innovative and just generally better than it has been.

I loved this book. How much did I love this book? When faced with a potentially very high luggage overlimit charge in bringing stuff back from the cruise, and forced to choose between shoes and this book (which I had finished reading about halfway through the cruise), I chose to leave the shoes and take the book.

Ultimately, I ended up giving the book to my mother to read with the caveat that I’d get it back next time I was out west, and took the shoes. But at the point where I thought it was a choice book > shoes.

Also, I love footnotes in all contexts, and these were especially fabulous. I want to be able to read all those delicious books referenced.

I just finished it last night. It was… very 19th century. Very good, but a very, very good mimic of the style. Which to me often brings a wierd reading experience of “boring but unputdownable”. Throughout the book there’s that crazy frustration of knowing really fascinating stuff is happening… somewhere else. And these dumbass people haven’t the sense to go to where it is so we can see it. :slight_smile: And then I got to the last few hundred pages and couldn’t put the thing down; I was so pissed when I had to go to work!

Upon finishing it, I do feel a little better about one thing - do you think it was the Raven King’s spell that made them so damned stupid? Or were they just dumb? “Durrr… who do I know with nine fingers?” “D’oh, sure you can have half. Whatever half you like. Just help yourself.” You’d think they’d never read a fantasy book before, hmph.

I’ve been hearing a lot of good things about this book. It sounds like my type o’ thing. I may have to check it out of of these days, when I’ve whittled the book stack on my nightstand down a foot or two.

I, too, adore this book. The first time through I found it very dry and slow reading, but I took it home for Christmas holidays and basically lived in it for a week, read it three times over. It’s such a distinctive fantasy, as good as the Gormenghast novels IMHO, and the characters…! Furthermore, it’s a book for people who love books - not just the stories, the actual books.

Unfortunately I can’t quote my favourite bits because I’ve lent it to two friends. Each only gets to keep it every other week because otherwise they don’t get enough schoolwork done. :smiley:

Hmmm. Interesting comparison with Gormenghast. I’m not prepared to go as far as that yet - I’ll have to re-read it a few times before I’m willing to admit that.

That’s okay though, because I’m sure to do the re-reading. :smiley:

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell may well be more lyrical; but for sheer perversity, nothing beats Gormenghast. Some frivolous cake, anyone? :wink: