Saturday, October 29, 2011

Review: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (audio) ~ by Susanna Clarke

jonathan strange

Review by Shellie for:  Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (in audio) ~ by Susanna Clarke;  read by Simon Prebble

There is a reason why some novels win multiple awards; this historical fantasy is one example of a book that deserves all the accolades it has received. An incredible tome which is a grand meandering adventure into the historical, magical, and darkly hilarious. It is a perfect read for fall.

About:  Set in the early 1800’s during the end of the Napoleonic wars in an England where magic and fairies exist; the story begins with Mr. Norrell as the self proclaimed “magician” of the age. He has delegated himself the task of re-establishing an order to English magic so that it can become as highly valued and respected as it once was. So in a twisted effort he eradicates every other magician/practitioner in the land.

Enter Jonathan Strange, a younger and more socially adept individual, who becomes Norrell’s student, learning what the older magician deems important to his acolyte. Sadly Norrell also hordes and hides all the most important information. Still his student develops, as Jonathan Strange is everything Norrell is not - possessing a natural ability for creating spells and magic.

This natural conflict is mixed together with an “evil fairy” and well developed characters. Woven into the mix are interesting historical facts, fantastic fairy history and a make-believe history of English magic. The result is a multi-layered, complex, dryly funny and wonderfully meandering story.

Thoughts:  As mentioned there are many well developed and intriguing characters in this huge book (900 or so pages or 32 hours of listening time). It has human sized fairies (not the fluffy kind) and a mix of curious and down to earth servants -including appropriate roles for men and women during this historical period. It has a writing style which has an old fashioned English feel; quite proper and appropriate for a pre-Victorian historical era.

This book was so much fun and I learned some actual history (which I am completely inept at), as a lot of the detail is actually grounded in fact. But the best part is the intriguing amount of imaginary fairy and magic history included, which is entertaining and wonderful. A perfect historical book for those who don’t like history.

Listened to in audio, the male narrator did an excellent job of moderating his voice for each of the characters, classes, and genders. I was even surprised that the footnotes worked well in the audio version - as there are many. Here are two short and fun examples of magical spells which the author included in one of the many footnotes, which I could imagine using at one time or another:

Chauntlucet: a mysterious and ancient spell which encourages the moon to sing. The song the moon knows is apparently very beautiful and can cure leprosy or sadness in anyone who hears it.

Stokesey’s Vitrification turns objects – and people – to glass.

I loved this wonderful book and give it 5 stars. Highly recommended if you enjoy historical fiction and/or fantasy; also for non fantasy readers who may be interested in reading something with magical elements. This was a fabulous and complex tale!

Audio Book Data: Unabridged; 32 hours, 29 minutes; Macmillan Audio (May 28, 2006) ; it has won several awards - Audio Award Nominee; Listen Up Award; Hugo Award; World Fantasy Award; and more.

Thanks for reading!



Bryce L. said...

Yes! This is one of my all-time favorite books and I listened to the amazing audiobook as well. I need to read it again.

Unknown said...

Bryce -
Yes I remember we were chatting about this one on Goodreads.

I just love it... Now the problem is what is going to top it? It's one of those books that you hate to end.

I am thinking historical fantasy may now be one of my favorite genres. But I just read the best of the best.

I wonder what she has coming out after this? Now I need to finish The Ladies of Grace Adieu.

@parridhlantern said...

This one's sat on my TBR after I picked it up at a bootfair for a pittance, aim to get round to it sometime soon.

Unknown said...

Gary -
I am thinking you will enjoy this.

I picked up my best copy (I have two) - a first edition at the "junk store" aka "charity shop" for a few dollars. I do recommend it highly in audio.

Here's hoping tomorrow is a better day for you...

ediFanoB said...

I can't share your enthusiasm. For me this was one of the most boring books I read in my life.

We can't love every book.

I like to read historical fantasy and mystery. The lates one I enjoyed a lot was: The Lion of Cairo by Oden Scott. Read this review and you will understand why.

Unknown said...

Edi -
Oh no! Did you try it in audio? How about a German translation?

I think I added - The Lion of Cairo you have linked here based on your review??? Off to check out your review and make sure.

Blodeuedd said...

I loved it when I read it and the footnotes, adored those..dunno how they work in audio though

Unknown said...

Blodeuedd -
They blended seamlessly. It was very well done in my humble opinion.

I think you would enjoy it in audio all the different English accents the reader put in the mix.

Aarti said...

Just like Blodeuedd, I am intrigued by how they were able to work in the footnotes in the audio version, but I'm glad it worked well! I heard that she's writing a sequel to the book, but I've heard that for years now...

Unknown said...

Aarti -
It was very well done - the footnotes.

I am seeing that these amazing works of writing take most writers years to put together, in my limited fiction reading experience. Thanks for sharing that she is apparently writing a sequel - I am not sure how she is going to top this though.

logankstewart said...

Ah, wonderful. Very glad to see you gave it 5 stars, Shellie. And I agree, the audio was excellent. I can still hear the narrator say "the Man with the Thistle-down hair." Such a fantastic book that I, too, must one day re-read.

Unknown said...

Yes Logan -
We agree again. Now I can go back and finally read your review.

Btw - your baby is the cutest little pixie! We ran out the door a couple weeks ago on this impromptu trip and I have not had a chance to make a comment. Congrats.

Alexia561 said...

Nice review! This is one I'm still on the fence about as it's gotten such good reviews, but I'm just not that into historical fantasy. Maybe I'll hop on the audio train one day and give it a try.

Unknown said...

Thanks Alexia -
I do think audio is the way to go if you ever get your gander up to "read" this book.

Will look for your thoughts when you do!

Anonymous said...

I actually saw that you were reviewing this book when I still had about 50 pages left, so I waited to come back and read your review (just in case you had any spoilers).

I'm not a fantasy reader, but this was handed to me by a friend. I think you hit the nail on the head. There was enough reality for me to be able to get into it. However, the fact that I'm not a fantasy reader combined with not being a fan of the Jane Austen-esque style of writing made it so it took me about 100 pages to get into it. But once I hit that point, I was hooked.

Paul D. Dail A horror writer's not necessarily horrific blog

Unknown said...

Paul -
Gads I hated Pride & Prejudice... I tried 4 different versions.
I like some Victorian period writing like Emily Bronte's - Wuthering Heights (you may like this as it is horror) and am almost finished with The Picture of Dorian Grey (horror too) - but I am really not well versed in it.

I love the fairy aspect of the story - where some of the fairy names have been used in real life antiquity. I had become a bit obsessed about - The Raven King and Oberon so this really satisfied me in that respect.

Like you I have some trouble with the high/epic fantasy (set in a fantastical world) rather than set in a real world (like this wonderful historical fantasy).

Did you write a review for it and if yes do you have a link?

Anonymous said...

Yes, I will admit I was sucked in by the Raven King lore, as well, although a little disappointed that... well, spoiler alert. I'll save it for my review. I haven't written it yet, but I'm going to in the next couple of weeks. I'll stop back by and let you know when I do.

Love the site, by the way. Very thorough reviews by both yourself and John.

Paul D. Dail A horror writer's not necessarily horrific blog

Unknown said...

Paul -
I am very interested to see your views around the fairy lore - Please do let me know when your review is live.

Thank you so much about your compliments about our site and reviews. We do have so much fun doing them.

TitusL said...

Inspired by Susanna's brilliant writings (of Jonathan Strange and Mr.Norell) thought you might enjoy my short piece entitled
How To Avoid (Or To Invite) Enchantment by Faries, Elves & Elementals;
I have recorded soundfile (with music) at top page,
so settle back and enjoy.....

Unknown said...

Cheer Celestial Elf -
I have enjoyed your other productions... off to check it out.

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