I’ve been busy (and enormously happy) reading Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, though I must say I finished the book in a surprisingly short amount of time, considering it has eight hundred pages. This means my happiness lasted less than expected.
The book is a wonderful structure balanced in such a way that joy and amusement are it’s natural byproducts. Though it has been said that it is something like a Harry Potter novel for adults I definitely wouldn’t put it that way. Such a formula is too simple to picture the original mix of ingredients Susanna Clarke poured into her magic cauldron. Historical knowledge; classical, efficient narrative techniques; a thorough acquaintance with XIXth century authors such as Charles Dickens and Jane Austen; imagination, fantasy, folklore, fake scholarship thrown into the lot for the sake of a most pleasurable sense of humour (the real scholarship, the science and the knowledge, lies behind and beyond)… No wonder I went through all those pages so quickly. Clarke’s novel has sold 4 million copies since it was published in 2004 but her work certainly delivers a higher level of quality than the typical bestseller. The figures she brings to life before the reader are not stock characters. They have entity, nuances contradictions, defined personalities, they certainly evolve and interact in many subtle ways. The author’s love for Italian painting and architecture plays an important part supplying backgrounds, motifs, atmospheres and sceneries. Many other cultural elements are set into this delightful construction. The rhythm of the narration fluctuates constantly so it doesn’t overwhelm the reader with a continual flow of action and miracles. A novel can always be likened to a river even not being a roman-fleuve. Like a river that runs swiftly and then broadens and calms down before making a display of its most spectacular rapids, this great narrative takes a course most convenient to it’s length, allowing the reader to rest and watch the calm banks, then to be swallowed by novelty and emotion, then to set foot on new territories, some of them provided with some sort of supernatural beauty. These elements the author masters and combines to produce a unique construction which has enthralled me as a reader and kept me going without pause till the end.
Now I’m reading another book of about eight hundred pages: Bleak House, by Charles Dickens. And it’s taking me much longer to read it, and Iv’e even paused between chapters to enjoy a couple of short books. Is it because I dislike it? Not at all. We’ll tackle this point soon.
In the meantime, please read this great article to know more about Clarke and her novel:
The New Yorker, Laura Miller: Susanna Clarke’s Fantasy World of Interiors