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Sunday, June 21, 2015

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

I first read Clarke's Novelwhen it came out, and in honor of the BBC series that just premiered (good so far!, and thanks to Bookwyrme for alerting me to it), I reread it.  I think I enjoyed it even more this time around; it is a richly detailed, well-researched story steeped in Regency Englishness.  Strange and Norrell are the two magicians fated to bring magic back to England, which they do amidst the Napoleonic wars, the madness of King George, and the dangerous mischief of a fairy king.  The book is also sprinkled with smudgy, atmospheric illustrations by Portia Rosenberg and footnotes that hint at an elaborate history of magicians, especially the Raven King.

It is a quietly subversive book, too.  The two protagonists of the title are white, wealthy gentlemen, but they are not heroes.  Norrell is selfish, fearful, and petty, and has pretty much every prejudice that exists.  Strange is much more likeable, but he has the casual arrogance that comes with privilege and easy success.  Neither one of them gives a thought to the consequences of their actions until it is too late, and by the close of the novel, neither one fully understands what happened.

It is, instead, the people marginalized by English society -- a black servant and son of a slave, dismissed and silenced women, servants, the poor, the mad -- who are more aware of what is truly going on.  Their experiences serve as an important counterpoint to the dealings of Norrell, Strange, and the Cabinet ministers, and help us piece together the true story.

There are rumors floating around from a few years ago that Clarke is working on a sequel; I dearly hope that is true, because I want to spend a lot more time in this world.

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