BY Vani IN Book Reviews

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke. This is my favourite book. Rating: Infinite

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is a ‘magical’ book about magic. For all the days I was reading it, I felt like I was under a spell. Truly speaking, I am in an awe of Susanna Clarke. It took her ten years to write her magnum opus, but all that effort was worth it. This is one book that’s going to leave its readers delighted and enthralled and mystified and enchanted for years and years to come. I can go on blabbering, but I am here to turn my GR friends into Strangeites or Norrellites and for that they need to know what this book is all about.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell tracks the story of two ‘practical’ magicians, their relationship, and how they bring magic back to nineteenth century England. It belongs to the category of alternative history and its main premise is that there was once a time when magic existed in England, was practised even, before it disappeared, surviving mainly through books for more than three hundred years. This ended up in creating a breed of theoretical magicians; people who taught themselves magic through books and knew not an iota of stuff about practical magic (imagine an explorer who hasn’t travelled anywhere ever and has learnt everything from books). It is at this stage that the reader is introduced to Mr Gilbert Norrell of Yorkshire, a practical magician, who intends to bring magic back to England. Mr Norrell believes in the power of ‘modern’ magic and repudiates everything that’s to do with medieval magic (magic that was practised three centuries ago by The Raven King and his followers). Mr Norrell is struggling to gain a foothold in the British polity to further his lofty ambitions, when resurrection of a woman, Lady Emma Pole, wife of a senior politician, Sir Walter Pole, using fairy magic proves beneficial. Everyone in London now believes that if there’s one person who could possibly restore magic to its lost glory, that person is Mr Gilbert Norrell. And it is at this time we are introduced to the second magician.

Jonathan Strange has spent most of his life not knowing what he wants to do. Vast stretches of land has been bequeathed him by his father and he has no dearth of money, only lack of ambition. His lady love, Arabella, and a chance meeting with a vagabond, Vinculus, who tells him of an old prophecy, makes him decide he wants to be a magician. Just as he is planning to begin his studies, Mr Norrell decides to take him as his pupil. Their differences notwithstanding, they work together and their collaboration works wonders during Napoleonic Wars. They soon fall apart due to these very differences. While Strange believes in the power of medieval magic and is keen to explore the spells practised by the Raven King, Mr Norrell cannot even bear to talk about it, let apart exploring the veracity of spells. Will these two men work together when the worst of fairy magic takes over London and its inhabitants, taking one after the other (Arabella included)? Who is the gentleman with the thistle-down hair? Will the Raven King return to claim what is his— the crown of Britain?

This is a tome of a book. A good 1000 pages is what I read. But for once, I started believing in magic, powers of the Raven King, his spells. I was so consumed in this alternate version of British history that it was difficult to believe the original version. The writing is lucid and the characters literally walk out of the pages. Clarke’s writing is a mix of Charles Dickens and Jane Austen, and both of those are my favourite writers. It draws you in and leaves you mesmerised. I’m planning to buy a signed copy from Amazon. Go guys, read this one! I’m a Strangeite, by the way.

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