Tag Archives: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell Read Along: Part III

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell - Susanna ClarkeI finished reading Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell 10 days ago. I loved the book. LOVED it. And this last volume read the fastest to me. I just couldn’t put it down. However, my thoughts are bound to be very incoherent, because it is hard to separate my general thoughts on the book from this last volume. And overall, Susanna Clarke managed to accomplish so much that I feel as if I can’t even begin to cover what I enjoyed about this book.

First, let me say that I was amazed about how significant all the introduced characters and details turned out to be. The last volume of this book made me feel more and more that I should just start right over at the beginning and find out more now that I know the general story. For so much of the book the general plot is quite unclear, except that we know that there’s a prophesy that will probably play some role or other. There’s much meandering, combined with the style of writing that reminds me so much of Jane Austen, but with more bluntness intermixed.. I can see why this book might not be for everyone. I also understand why the last volume compelled me most to keep on reading, because this is where the plot falls into place. But that is not to say that I liked this volume best, per se, or that I did not yet love the book back in the other volumes. It’s more that, having read part III, I appreciate the meandering, and the side stories, and the overall style of the book even more.

I’m sorry, I’m sitting here pulling a complete blank on what to say and where to begin.

From the very first, I loved how footnotes were incorporated into the story. How they might not be related to the overall plot at all times, but contain back story, and side story (as Jenny called it), and just filled in so many blanks in a world where fantasy meets nineteenth century England, that the world just became more real and whole from the get go.

I like how both the marginality of women and people from other races were written into the story and discussed in such an ingenious manner.

There’s Jonathan Strange and Mr (apparently Gilbert, how had I not picked up on that until this last volume?) Norrell, who are both well-rounded characters that left me alternately sympathetic and annoyed. Mostly, Norrell annoyed me to no end and I felt more for Jonathan, but then, in the end, I couldn’t help but pity Norrell too, with his lifelong devotion to magic and his insecurities and loneliness.

But all the side characters (well, as far as you can actually call them side characters) are so well written en significant too. I loved Childermass. And Stephen (I wonder if he ever had a chance at love with the shopkeeper lady?). And Lady Pole. And oh, Arabella.

I liked how the theme of madness and magic became more prominent throughout this third volume. I love how there’s no definite answer to the question if mad people can see faerie’s or if it’s really the fact that they’re in the proximity of faerie’s that makes that they are perceived as mad.

There’s just simply so much ambiguity to this story. The whole ambivalent ending, although it was a good ending, it just made me want more. How could you not want more of such a great story?

Okay, so I’m sorry, I think I just proved that I really can’t say anything coherent about this story. Except that I loved it. Perhaps once I have reread it, someday, I will be able to write a proper post on this book. I feel like saying this is “a story as any story should be”. But really, what does that signify apart from repeating that I loved it?

What did you think? Did you enjoy reading Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell? Who was your favourite character? What was your favourite volume, or twist? What were things you appreciated and what did you not like so much?

[For the sign-up post, see here. This post also includes a list of tentative participants and a reading schedule. For the discussion post about part I, see here. The post on part II is here. You are welcome to join in on the discussion of all parts today, or later when you've finished it. Have you posted your thoughts on part III, or on the whole book? Leave me a comment with the link and I will link up to your thoughts]

Thursday Tea: Spring!

The Books: This sunny day finds me still reading Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. I am at page 700. It’s unbelievable to think that I am nearing the end, but that I also still have 300 pages left. I’m glad this is such a long book. I don’t think it would have worked if it was any shorter. I just found out Norrell’s name is Gilbert. Heehee.
Next to JS&MN I recently picked up There but for the by Ali Smith and State of Wonder by Ann Patchett from the library as Orange reads. I’m about to start There but for the, though I have to admit that the last few days haven’t been reading days really, so I’m not sure how soon I’ll finish these two books.
I’m dreading a few reviews I still need to write (I’m up to 15 unwritten ones at the moment). I’m not looking forward to writing about Goddess Interrupted in particular, since I had problems with the story and most people seem to love it. So I don’t know. I guess I had better get it out of the way soon.

The tea: I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I am not drinking any tea at the moment. I’ve had tons of tea the past few days, because I’ve been in bed with a cold. But right now, with the sun shining outside, I think I may just stick to water.

Other News: I read Mockingjay this week and loved it. I also got to see The Hunger Games movie yesterday and I loved it. It’s great to see a YA novel tackled in an appropriate way and having them use effects that capture the emotions/feel of the setting and characters well (*ahem* Twilight *ahem*). Very much recommend you go and see it. I certainly will be watching it again soon.

Thursday Tea is a weekly meme organised by Anastasia of Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell Read Along: Part II

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell - Susanna Clarke

So here we are, ready to discuss Volume II, everyone?

So much to discuss that I didn’t exactly know where to stop or start, which is why I ended up keeping this post short. I hope you will feel free to discuss more in-depth in the comments.

I still cannot like Mr Norrell. But I do very much like Jonathan Strange, even though his interest in faerie-magic make me wonder if I’m supposed to like him. In other books about faerie (not that I have read that many, I admit!), there’s always something dangerous, dark, and unknown about their magic, and I think the book evokes the same feelings here. And I didn’t much enjoy Strange’s neglect of his wife. But then he does come out with these wonderful sentiments that warm me towards him:

“Upon the contrary, Mrs Bullworth, a system of morality which punishes the woman and leaves no share of blame to the man seems to me quite detestable. But beyond that I will not go. I will not hurt innocent people.”

One can wonder about that last line. It seems Strange is full of good intentions, but surely his dedication to the English side of the war goes rather far at times, and sometimes I wish he would have drawn lines as to what he would and would not do to help the war effort a little more firmly.

In this volume of the book, the tale turns decidedly darker. I think perhaps, in the first part the tale focuses more of the magic of magic, the hopeful sentiments associated with it, while this part is much more about the ambiguous and the fine line between white and dark magic? I don’t know how any of you felt, but the episode during the Spanish war (I’m trying not to spoil for those who haven’t read it yet – and I’m sure you know what I refer to if you have read it) was decidedly spooky, and the last pages of this volume even more so. Oh, Arabella,

Jasmine, having read part I, pointed out in her comment on the post discussing part I that she likes Stephen Black most as a character, and then continues:

I really like Stephan Black, not as a person, but because of the potential I see in his character, could he be the one the prophesy speaks of? the unknown king?…can’t remember the exact words of the prophesy spoken by Vinculus….

I admit, I cannot remember the exact wording of the prophesy either, but reading her comment I had the feeling that she might just be right.. Having read part II, I’m even more convinced that she is.

How did you feel about Volume II of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell? What stood out to you most in terms of characters, writing, or plot? Are you looking forward to Volume III?

I admit, I am both anticipating and dreading Volume III. I have a feeling it is going to become darker and more ambiguous still, but I also really want to know what happens next.

[For the sign-up post, see here. This post also includes a list of tentative participants and a reading schedule. For the discussion post about part I, see here. You are still very welcome to join in whatever way you want! Have you posted your thoughts on part II? Leave me a comment with the link and I will link up to your thoughts]

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell Read Along: Part I

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell - Susanna Clarke

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]

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell Read Along

I want to invite you to join me for a two-month read along of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke.

I wanted to show off my new blanket. However, I kind of hate how the picture turned out. I will look for a replacement, but I cannot seem to find one of the edition I own.

Since this is a three-volume book of over 800 pages (1006 pages for the above-pictured edition), I suggest the three following dates for discussion. Of course, posting around these dates is fine to, as is reading the book all at once and joining in on the final discussion date.

22 February: Volume I (+/- 261 pages)
14 March: Volume II (+/- 370 pages)
4 April: Volume III (+/- 371 pages)

Let me know if you want to join? Everyone keeps telling me this is such a great read, but because of its length I think reading it together with others would be easier and more fun!

Tentative list of participants:

  1. Iris
  2. Amy
  3. Jenny (Stone Soup Books)
  4. Jenny (Jenny’s Books)
  5. Carin
  6. Holly
  7. Fleur Fisher
  8. Jasmine
  9. Jodie