I’m re-reading this book after having blazed through its 800 pages earlier this year. It’s safe to say I’ve never read anything quite like it.
Equal parts pastiche of the gothic novel and exquisite fairy tale/fantasy done in the style of George MacDonald, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell hooked me almost from the beginning and kept me enthralled to the last page.
Set in the early 19th century, the novel follows the story of Mr. Norell, a Yorkshire gentleman who attempts to single-handedly revive English magic, which has fallen into obscurity after 200 years of no true magicians practicing it. After two dramatic demonstrations of magic (one of which sets into motion a chain of events that weaves throughout the books’ narrative), Mr. Norrell rises to become a celebrated magician in English society and achieves his goal of helping the British government fight in the war against France.
Enter Jonathan Strange, a second magician, as different from the stuffy and scholarly Mr. Norrell as can be imagined. The remaining two thirds of the novel focuses on the interaction between these two protagonists and their struggles to define the content of English magic for the future. In the background in the beginning but coming more and more to the forefront as the novel progresses, looms a struggle against a powerful and malevolent fairy prince. All of the different threads tie together nicely as the novel concludes.
This book sets an intriguing stage, with it many footnotes about the history of magic and Faery, but it sticks to the rigid style of the gothic novel, making the end result even more fascinating.
Like other readers, when I finished it, I immediately wanted to start reading it again. I hope that Susanna Clarke publishes a sequel or two.