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    Review of JONATHAN STRANGE & MR NORRELL by Susanna Clarke (see the website)

    Bloomsberry Publishing, September, 2004

    Magic has been dead in England for hundreds of years--the only magicians who remain being those who study about magic rather than actually performing it. But one man, Mr Norrell, is intent on returning magic to England, defeating the troublesome Napoleon, and proving that magic might serve the country. Norrell insists that the returned magic avoid any connection to fairies, and he takes special care to heap scorn on the reputed father of all magic in England, John Uskglass. Only once does he violate his rules, calling up a fairy to return the dead fiancee of the Prime Minister.

    Mr Norrell claims to wish magic to return to England, but he goes out of his way to make that difficult. The only way to learn magic is through books, but Norrell has gathered every book he can find and hides them from anyone. He sends his (semi-magical) servant through England exposing fraud. Still, when a second true magician appears, Mr Norrell cannot help his fascination and insists that the newcomer, Jonathan Strange, become his student. Of course, he doesn't go so far as to share his most important books with his student.

    Strange is initially content with the arrangement, but his experience in the military convinces him that Mr Norrell has taken a wrong path--that English magic is inseparable from John Uskglass. The two magicians quarrel and sever their relationship.

    In the meantime, the fairy Mr Norrell relied upon to raise the dead fiancee takes an interest in the minister's black servant, and in Strange's wife whom, he eventually kidnaps into his perpetual but grim world of Lost Hope and continual parties celebrating cruelty and death. Strange didn't pay much attention to his wife while she was present, but with her absent and thought dead, he seeks madness.

    JONATHAN STRANGE & MR NORRELL is a strange, but powerful novel. For much of the book, there really isn't a plot line. Rather, Mr Norrell and Jonathan Strange wander around England and the world discussing magic and working strange magics (Strange occasionally moves cities for the convenience of Wellington's army). Author Susanna Clarke takes the reader off into long digressions with Steven Black, the servant who captivates the fairy, Norrell's servant (who is possibly the most intriguing character in the story), and Mr. Seguntus, an academic magician who did not give up his studies after Norrell broke up the Magician Society of York.

    STRANGE is a literary work, with not a few parallels to English literature of the 18th century (long digressions, author notes to the reader, an omniscient point of view). Still, Clarke uses these devices rather than being limited by them, keeping the reader captivated.

    This is a massive work--close to 900 pages in the hardback version--and requires an investment in time to read. But the book definitely provides a high return on this investment. I recommend JONATHAN STRANGE & MR NORRELL highly.

    Four Stars

    Reviewed 9/13/05

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