Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell

by Susanna Clarke





May 02

So, my opinion...

My opinion of Strange/Norrell? Hated it! I read more than 400 pages of it and then gave up. Was there even a plot? (grin) Okay--that's an exaggeration--there was a small little plot, but streeeetched out to a ridiculous degree. I love fantasy books, enjoy Victorian England, like Dickens . . . this should have been a winner for me . . . but I found myself looking for any excuse to avoid picking it up, and felt like I was doing homework whenever I did. ("Do I have to??") Did NOT like it! And if I had had to read "thistle-haired gentleman" one more time, I really would have thrown the book against the wall. Is there no other way to describe a man with wild, white hair, that the author had to use this one descriptive phrase over and over and over?? (Even the footman, who presumably never saw a thistle in his life, described the man that way in his thoughts . . . a little unlikely, I thought, for a servant who's probably never been outside of London before.) In short (I know, too late to be short), I emphatically did not like this book! And I won't even get started on the footnotes...

Posted by *Deb*

Book Discussion Begins!

Congratulations to all those who finished this book, and to those who are still reading, don't stop! I'd like to start by asking about other people's experiences reading this book. Aside from the number of pages to read, I think the genre--fantasy--may have made Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell a little more "difficult" to read. I read through about 100 pages and stopped, then I picked the book up again after a couple of weeks and read the whole thing in a little more than a week. It definitely got a lot more interesting for me after the introduction of Jonathan Strange. I thought the footnotes were a good way of adding more background without taking away from the story.

If anyone can answer this for me: What happened to Mr Lascelles? Did he get what he deserved?

Posted by ~MJ~

Book Discussion Begins!

Welcome to our discussion of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell by Susanna Clarke. First, I'd like to apologize. I did not finish this book. Magic was conspiring against me I think. I did get about 150 pages in, and I was enjoying it, when life (and a brand new nephew) intruded and messed up my plans. That said, the wonderfully well-read and well-knit MJ has graciously agreed to help out and jump-start the discussion. See her post here.

And if you'd like further help in discussing the book, here are some discussion questions from the book's website:

1. Sir Walter Pole likens England in the novel to ‘an orphaned young lady left in the care of a pack of lecherous, avaricious old men’ who ‘stole her inheritance and plundered her house’ (p65). What is the narrator’s view of the government ministers, aristocrats and military figures who hold the reigns of power in Regency England? Do you think satire plays an important part in the novel?

2. Jonathan Strange & Norrell interweaves fictional characters with real figures from nineteenth-century England including, among others, King George III, the publisher John Murray, the Duke of Wellington and the poet Byron. What is the effect of mixing fact and fiction in this way? Does the author use any other techniques to convince us of the ‘truth’ of her narrative? Is this kind of writing ‘fantasy’ or ‘historical fiction’?

3. ‘Magicians have no business marrying’ says Mr Norrell, of Strange’s relationship with Arabella. Why does Norrell take such a dim view of Strange’s marriage to Arabella? What does the novel have to say about marriage in general and the nature of relationships between men and women in the society it depicts?

4. How does Susanna Clarke’s use of the language and idiom of the nineteenth century add to the atmosphere of the book? Does the tone of her narrator or her choice of words remind you of any other writers?

5. A recent interview with Susanna Clarke in the Time Magazine suggested that, if it had not already been taken, ‘Sense and Sensibility’ would have been a good alternative title for Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. How do Strange and Norrell differ in their motivations for reviving English magic, and in their temperaments? Arabella Strange observes that ‘a great disparity of views and temper existed between the two magicians’. Do they have any similarities? Why do you think the author created two contrasting central characters?

6. What part does madness play in the novel?

7. Clarke’s narrative is heavily footnoted with references to books, stories, and historical documents both real and imagined. These extensive notes — many of them transfixing short stories in their own right — hint at a much broader historical canvas against which the events in the novel take place. Is this construction successful? Does it add credibility to the fictional universe Clarke has created? Does it detract from the main narrative in any way?

8. ‘“Can a magician kill a man by magic?” Lord Wellington asked Strange. Strange frowned. He seemed to dislike the question. “I suppose a magician might,” he admitted, “but a gentleman never could”’ (p.304).

9. According to the narrator, Strange, Norrell, the York magicians, Lascelles and Lord Byron are all “gentlemen”, but Stephen Black and Childermass are not. Is the quality of being a “gentleman” in the novel related to integrity? And if not, what does it depend on? How does your opinion of characters such as Stephen Black, Childermass and Vinculus change over the course of the novel?

10. How important is humour in the book? Do you think it is important to the author to make her reader laugh?

11. How much truth is there in Vinculus’ early prophecy to Jonathan Strange (p199)? What different kinds of knowledge and wisdom are explored in the book?

And some further links to be explored:

- A short story by Susanna Clarke.

- Links from the author's web site.

- The New York Times review.

- The Washington Post review.

- A review by John Clute, Science Fiction author and scholar.

- An interview with Susanna Clarke: Part 1

Posted by Knit One Read Too

April 01

Discussion Moved to May 2nd

Due to the length of the book, the discussion will now start on May 2nd. Please feel free to log in and write up an entry before the start date - only please leave it on draft until May 2nd.

Thank you for your continued participation!

Posted by Knit One Read Too

February 28

Discussion Begins April 4th

While you're reading, enjoy these links:

-- The book's website

-- BBC interview with Susanna Clarke.

-- Book of the Month Club interview with Susanna Clarke.

-- review

-- Christian Science Monitor review

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