Friday, February 7, 2014

Mr. Norrell is strange, and finished!

One of the things I like to do when I have finished a book, especially if it's one I have mixed emotions about, is look at reviews on Amazon and Good Reads and see what other people think of it.

While I did this for Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, one thing struck me.  I've never seen an author compared to so many other wildly different authors:  Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Mark Helprin, J.K. Rowling, J.R.R. Tolkien, China Mieville, and trust me, I'm just getting started.  I think this happens because Clarke is a total original who quietly echoes many literary traditions.  

Another thing that made sense is that the book can be interpreted, at least in part, as a look at the moral implications of quickly evolving technology, with magic standing in for technology.  At one point, Clarke even brings up real historical advances, and the Luddites as a group.

Published in May 1812 by Messrs. Walker and Knight, Sweetings Alley, Royal Exchange
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, copyright expired

Another interesting take is that the man with the thistledown hair, who is a powerful fairy, also operates in many ways like a vampire.  Cheating life from people through enchantment.  Strange even brings up vampires at one point, although in no relation to fairies. This is a very clever book that way, directly referencing its themes every so often.

But there is no getting around the fact that this book is really, really not for everyone.  Even if it's right up your alley, you have to be in the mood for it.  It tested my patience, despite the writing being truly outstanding.  For example, I'm still not sure that we needed hundreds of pages of Strange & Wellington, for all the more character development that occurred.

The Battle of Waterloo by William Sadler, c1838
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, copyright expired

The characters - these characters are complex and often you don't really like them much, even the 'good' ones.  The bad ones don't always get what's coming to them.  You want to punch Strange in the head for being so oblivious for 500 pages, and Norrell for being so small-minded for 700.  Women and the poor are not treated nicely here, by humans or fairies, and that doesn't change much by the end.  And, on page 782, you're still not sure what the Raven King is all about and why he's restoring magic to England.  Although his appearances at the end are handled nicely.  It's rumored that Clarke is writing a sequel, I can see why.

I have also seen that the film rights for the book were sold a while ago, and a BBC series is underway, too.  I can't wait for the BBC edition, this is prime material for them.

  Final call:

Please read, but proceed with caution and an abundance of patience!    

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