Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, the novel: Does it ever get interesting?

I’m to the point where it is first proposed that Strange and Norrell meet. If the previous oh-so-many pages are a guide, this will only be the first of many such proposals, and I’m ready to give up. At first Clarke’s smack-on impression of Harry Potter as re-imagined by Trollope or Austin was amusing. I had hoped, though, for pacing that was a little less Regency or Victorian; parody should be shorter than the original.

Should I give up now, assuming that the next several-hundred pages will continue to slog from one mildly-interesting tit-bit to another until it just runs out of steam? I would have cast it aside like a soiled glove a week ago (I’m a slow reader) had you people not spoken so glowingly of it.

The TV show is quite fast paced if that’s more your thing.

I need something to read at lunch, in book form (and that’s barely tolerated by management–draconian paperless office rules), and I have it, but I’m sorely tempted to dig out something I read before just so I can stop reading this.

ETA: And I don’t have BBC America. I have ways, but I’m trying to be a good boy.

It starts reeeealllly slowly, but eventually picks up until by the end it proceeds at a breathless pace. If you can manage it, I think it’s well worth staying engaged. If, by the time they [oblique spoiler]

visit France, you’re still not enjoying it, it might just not be for you.

I never really enjoyed it. I finished it, but more out of stubbornness than anything else.

I particularly resent the idea that the fictional universe can be VASTLY different from the real world, but still have so many of the same events occur in the same way, at the same time.

Gosh, there’s MAGIC in this world, and magicians, and eldritch spells, and supernatural entities…and the Napoleonic Wars unroll in exactly the same way as they did here. I sez bullshit.

(I have the same objection to the Temeraire series by Novik. You’ve got dragons bopping around in the Napoleonic Wars…and yet the battle of Trafalgar happens at the same time, the same day, with the same result, right down to the death of Nelson. Absurd!)

Dude, chill! It’s just fiction. It doesn’t have to make sense. So relax, dig out the copy of The Warlock In Spite of Himself that I know you have, and settle your tummy. :wink:

A wizard did it.

Watched the first episode, happy with the casting, loved Eddie Marsan at least since Little Dorritt, noticed I got more out of it than someone who hadn’t read the book. Guess I’m stuck finishing it.

Isn’t your reaction here basically an elaborate form of fighting the hypothetical?

Kinda… But it’s a specific form of hypothetical, that works on a weird “Ceteris Paribus” structure. To me, it violates the central rule of “alternate history” fiction, where you make a change and then do your best to see where it would lead.

e.g., if you go back in time and kill Napoleon in 1787…you can’t then still talk about the Bay of Pigs and Cuban Missile Crisis nearly 200 years later. They simply would not have happened. The vast scroll of history would have unrolled differently.

(“Let’s do a science fiction story about a world where Hydrogen has one and one-half Protons. Does 80’s music still suck?”)

Susanna Clarke is definitely no Harry Turtledove.

I was going to replay to this thread, but then I saw that **Trinopus **already posted everything I was going to say, almost word for word. Eerie.

I’d also like to add that the book’s “protagonists” are literally the most powerful magic-users in the history of fantasy literature - they can teleport *cities *- and yet everyone, including them, treats their powers as a as sort of a useful parlor trick. It just doesn’t compute. They should at least be *tempted *to conquer the world; after all, they both could do it without a second thought.

I failed to get far enough into JS&MrN, to be able to judge whether it became interesting. My problem with it was maybe foolish: had to do with Jane Austen resemblance, as mentioned in the OP. I’ve tried a number of times, to get into Austen’s novels, but have found them unreadable – not least, because her (perfectly authentic) English as of two hundred years ago, does my head in. Attempting JS&…, I quickly found that – with its being, largely, supposedly put together from contemporary documents – it’s written in “Jane-Austen-speak”. That was a quick kiss of death, for me.

Most of the opinions of the book which I’ve heard, prior to reading this thread, have been not very favourable – for pretty much the range of reasons cited by posters here who aren’t enthusiastic about the work. Though Ms. Clarke’s effectiveness as a fiction writer is open to doubt, she’s undeniably very clever; I’m inclined uncharitably to feel, “and by God she knows it, and pulls out all the stops to let everyone else know it”.

In a way, that’s sort of an underlying theme to the whole book - only England has any magic at all that we know of (Napoleon is notably frustrated by the lack of French magicians), and it’s viewed by those in power exactly as “a sort of useful parlour trick”. They’ve no real interest in exploring its full potential because at the time magic was largely practiced by grubby street magicians, and the English upper class are far too class-conscious to want to dirty their hands with such stuff. Even Wellington, who has the most need of it, takes a while to accept its practical application, and note that Strange, who is the keenest proponent of using as much magic as possible, shies away from using it as an offensive weapon of war on the grounds that a “gentleman” would not do such a thing. Norrell’s effort to “make magic respectable” is an uphill battle in the face of all of the above (not helped by Norrell’s own personal foibles, admittedly).

There’s also the stated and implied back history of the Raven King and his use of magic; in addition to general English reluctance to deviate from the tried-and-true way of doing things there’s also an unwillingess to stir up reminders of a past in which England got thoroughly trounced by the forces of the Raven King, losing control of the North entirely (in the book it’s mentioned that the King of England - meaning the South - is only Regent of the North until the Raven King’s assumed eventual return). Using magic is like capitulating to the ways of the enemy, which goes against the English temperament.

**TL; DR **- the reluctance to use magic in any big way before and during the events of the book is justified in the narrative. What happens after the book, however…

On the subject of whether it gets interesting - personally I love the language Clarke uses with its adaptation of period literary idioms and use of quasi-scholarly footnotes, all rife with humor and narrative indulgences. If you don’t like the medium, you won’t like the book.

You revelled-in, I was completely turned off – each to their own !

I suspect the book appealed far more to period literature lovers than it did to fantasy fans.

As one data point, I’ll note that I never read period literature, do read a lot of fantasy, (and sci fi and contemporary literary fiction) and I think this book is one of the best books I’ve ever read. (Not just one of the best fantasy books.)

Got it. I don’t think of this as an alternate history, but instead as an alternate universe. It’s not a “what if” about some historical counterfactual, instead it’s (just like all fantasy) “here’s a world where magic works and here are the rules, and watch what happens.” It’s just that it happens to be that one of the “rules” is “this world’s history strongly resembles our own.”

As I said, I agree with Trinopus, and I see it as lazy worldbuilding. It’s milquetoast fantasy, cutesy rather than smart.