Sunday, January 10, 2016

2005 Hugo Winner: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

2005 Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell
Susanna Clarke
Read 2012, reviewed 5/18/2013
5 stars

This was the book that made me decide to do the Hugo challenge.  After reading it, I couldn’t wait to see what wonderous literature I would find in Hugo winners. 

The format of the book is non-traditional.  It is a fictional account of the rebirth of magic in 19th century England.  While it is a normal novel in most respects, it has footnotes.  They refer to fictional works, such as non-fiction books written by the main characters and histories of the faerie or magical inhabitants of the England.  It also retells famous events in history, such as the war with Napoleon as if magic were used to win battles against him, and how the faerie king interacted with mad George III. 

I found this format wondrous.  It made this alternative universe seem authentic. I couldn’t get enough of the text in the footnotes.  Usually, in a non-fiction work, the footnotes can distract me, derailing me from the flow of the main text.  Here, it added a richness that I found satisfying and thrilling.

The greatest part of this book was Clarke’s writing style.  Every sentence was a joy to read.  I found myself reading it with an English accent (no doubt derived from my exposure to British film and TV).  If I picked up the book before going to sleep, I only had to read a few pages to find pleasure in my reading. 

The reality is, the book is long.  I think it took me over a month to read.  I have some friends who couldn’t get past the first hundred pages, and others who wished Clarke had a better editor forced upon her.  But I was perfectly happy every time I picked it up. 

The characters were very Victorian: either overly modest, or overly self-absorbed.  My favorite character was Stephen, the black footman.  I mention him as black because that is relevant to how he relates to the faerie king, and how he exists in a modest life as an uncomfortable oddity in this conservative time. 

I realize this book is not for everyone, as my friends will attest, but I recommend giving it a try.  I believe that if you like it, you will love it.  I gave it 5 stars.

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