Admittedly, it took me some time to get into this book, especially since its size kept me from reading comfortably in bed, but now that I have finished part I, I am impatient to read on, almost to the extent of wishing the next dates for volume II and III would be sooner.
I very much enjoy the language, it reminds me so much of Jane Austen (not a very original observation, I know). Some of the sentences read just like her, her ridicule of almost every characters’ better and worse qualities reminded me of Austen, and there was a moment when Arabella Woodhope is described in a manner that made me think that she could very well be a different take on Elizabeth Bennet:
“She was about twenty-two years of age. In repose her looks were only moderately pretty. There was very little about her face and figure that was in any way remarkable, but it was the sort of face which, when animated by conversation or laughter, is completely transformed. She had a lively disposition, a quick mind and a fondness for the comical. She was always very ready to smile and, since a smile is the most becoming ornament that any lady can wear, she had been known upon occasion to outshine women who were acknowledged beauties in three countries.”
More than this description of her looks, it was her gentle mocking of Jonathan Strange that reminded me of Elizabeth. I really hope Arabella will be a recurring character in part II and III of the book, because I think I will like her.
As for Mr Norrell, I am not sure I like him. He seems a little arrogant and self-protective, doesn’t he? Nevertheless, I find it very entertaining to read about him, which just shows that sometimes characters can be very unlikeable but still interesting subjects for stories. I think that for all the characters he meets, I feel the most sorry for the girl he raises from the death. The other people he interacts with all seem to be faulty to such a degree that I cannot feel sorry for them.
It are the magical touches to a “real world” that I find very interesting up to now. The footnotes perfectly contribute to that feeling, with the citation of fake sources that all belong to that world. It seems a rather interesting way to discuss “fact and fiction” in literature.
I have read something about people finding it strange that for a book titled “Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell”, the first named character is only introduced so late in the book. In a way, I can completely understand the feeling. However, I have been puzzling over the question if that is true, exactly. It is in the last chapter of part I that we first truly begin to learn of Jonathan’s character, but it is around page 160 that he is introduced as the son of his mean and stingy father. Furthermore, he is mentioned in footnotes from the very start, his biography being one of the main sources cited throughout the first part. Again, such an interesting structure!
There is one more thing that stood out to me, and that was the manner in which Susanna Clarke subverts expectations pertaining to categorisations such as male-female, white-black, upper-lower class. She does so in a manner that I found very interesting. At times she reifies expectations and then continues to mock them, or she outlines divisions between any of these categories, before having characters unite on other fronts. The divide between London and country servants is an example, who unite over their fear of magic. Or the discussion of who decides what “proper magic” is. Most interesting to me was the story about the servant Stephen. The manner in which the fact that he is allowed to lead the household is first described to mark the forward character of Sir Walter, before the fairy character then implies in which ways Walter only uses his treatment of Stephen as a way to further his own interests, while keeping him in the position of a servant. But then, the fairy-character offers him princedom in a manner that does not take Stephen’s own wishes into account, which is another manner of establishing dominance, perhaps? Also, the fact that Stephen in the neighbourhood gossip is established as a former prince was interesting [and admittedly, entertaining], I thought, since it appeals to the “noble savage” myth and reminded me of Oroonoko in some ways.
Anyway, enough of my own ramblings. What did you think?
How do you like Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell so far? How do you feel about Mr. Norrell? Is there any character you are particularly interested in? How do you feel about the structure and style of the book so far?
Feel free to engage with my questions, or talk about anything else in your own posts/comments!
[For the sign-up post, see here. This post also includes a list of tentative participants and a reading schedule. You are still very welcome to join in whatever way you want! Have you posted your thoughts on part I, leave me a comment with the link and I will link up to your thoughts]