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PostPosted: Tue Dec 27, 2005 8:15 pm 
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(I know there are people here who (as far as I know) don't hang out at B77 a the present so I thought I'd post this here as well. I hope that's all right.)

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke, is one of the best books I have ever read. Or, more precisely, it is one of my favourite.
I decided this after I finished page two.
I finished the book last night and even after 782 pages, found nothing to change my mind.

I love EVERYTHING about this book. I loved the historical footnotes. I loved the characters. I loved the author's style and dry sense of humour and irony. I loved the twistings of the plot and how it all came together. Everything.

It is a book that I feel the need to discuss, and knowning no one who has read it, I turn to you all. There is so much there . . . the mirrors and Vinculus and John Uskglass and the ravens and the darkness, that I cannot just sit and sort it out in my own mind because everything gets all jumbled up.

I shall need to read it again, to figure things out and put the pieces together, but for now, here are some thoughts, which do contain spoilers.


Although the book is called Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, I think that perhaps it is really about John Uskglass. Vinculus, I believe, says that Strange and Norrell are just a spell that Uskglass is doing. What I could not figure out was what the spell was, what it was for. Was it to release those imprisoned in Lost-Hope?

My favourite character, I think, was John Childermass. He was dark and wry and wonderful. I wish he had been in the book more, but at the same time, I think his character would not have worked so well if he had been. He seems to hold much of the story together, though I'm not entirely sure how. But it can't be coincedence that he is the one who discovered Vinculus, who is found by John Uskglass. Perhaps because he is the only one of the three who is truly loyal?

Just a few thoughts for now. I'm still sorting things out in my head.

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 27, 2005 11:48 pm 
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Mossy, I've not even heard of the book! What kind of book is it? Sounds a bit like fantasy? Or something along the lines of Harry Potter?

The title sounds intriguing! So could you please say some more about what kind of book it is? :)

I hope there'll be people who've read it to discuss it with you! :)

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but being a cheerful hobbit he had not needed hope, as long as despair could be postponed.


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PostPosted: Wed Dec 28, 2005 12:41 am 
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Hobby, it's kind of like fantasy, but not. That is, the subject matter is fantastical. It's about two magicians (the title characters). One of them, Gilbert Norrell, wants to bring magic back to England. He goes about England putting out of business all of the other men who have pretentions to being magicians, and owns every book of Magic that there is, so no one else really has a chance anyway. Then he ends up taking on a man who really is a magician, and a brilliant one, Jonathan Strange. Northern England is really the kingdom of John Uskglass, who was a human raised in Faerie, and who dissappeared 400 years ago but is not dead.

However, Clarke presents as a history, or at least as historical fiction, which is one of the things that I loved about it. The Duke of Wellington makes an appearance, as does Lord Byron. There are all sorts of "historical" footnotes included, about English magicians of the past and things that have happened to them. She really creates a world that seems totally real, so that it's almost hard to believe that there aren't actually English magicians. So yes, it may technically be fantasy, but that's not the word I would use to describe it. I hope that makes sense.

It's won quite a few things, most notably a Hugo Award. Here's the official website and it's page on Amazon.

:)

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PostPosted: Wed Dec 28, 2005 1:23 am 
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This may help, Hobby. It's a review from the Science Fiction Book Club.
Yes, of course I'm a member. :P

Quote:
Winner of the 2005 World Fantasy Award

I’m a pretty jaded reader. I’ve read a lot of fantasy, and very little of it can impress me these days. But Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell did—it’s as good a novel as it is a fantasy, and probably the best first novel I’ve ever read.
It is 1806 in England. Magicians are purely theoretical—well-bred men with an interest in scholarship and a library full of old books—and no real magic has been done for hundreds of years. But one Yorkshire gentleman, Norrell by name, declares himself a practical magician. He makes the statues of York Cathedral speak, summons ghostly ships to terrify Napoleon’s armies, and raises a beautiful young woman from the dead.
Norrell causes a huge stir in London society and soon finds an apprentice—Jonathan Strange, a rich young dilettante who has already tried and abandoned a dozen careers, and who shows himself a frighteningly quick study at magic. Soon, Strange is confident enough in his own power to join Wellington’s forces in Europe, casting spells to confound and disturb the enemy.
But that’s only the beginning of a story that encompasses a young black man destined to be king, the madness of King George III, the fate of two women abducted to the land of the fairies, and the terrifying Raven King—the greatest magician in English history and ruler of half the realm for over three hundred years.
Your mainstream-reading friends—the ones who picked up The Lord of the Rings because of the movies and Harry Potter because of their kids—will hear about this book in a few weeks or months. Be sure to tell them that you read it first!
— Andrew Wheeler, Editor
(782 pp.)


Looks interesting, Mossy.
Think I'll order it.

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PostPosted: Wed Dec 28, 2005 1:53 am 
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Me too. :)

Mossy, you may need to wait a while to discuss it with people, but you'll probably get a chance eventually. ;)

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PostPosted: Wed Dec 28, 2005 4:40 am 
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Voronwë and Sassy, I am very pleased to read that! :D

Even if I don't get to discuss with anyone at all, I am glad to have the chance of introducing others to the wonderfulness that is this book.

Quote:
You'll probably get a chance eventually.


I'm sure it will be worth the wait. :)

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PostPosted: Wed Dec 28, 2005 1:22 pm 
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You may discuss it with me all you like. I loved this book! :D


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PostPosted: Wed Dec 28, 2005 3:16 pm 
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Thanks for the info, Mossy and Sass! :)

I agree it sounds interesting! (In spite of the silly advertising phrase the guy in Sassy's quote used - I'm not keen on reading a book just so I can say I read it before it became popular! :roll: Besides, with my reading speed, I won't have read it before that, anyway! :P )

So, it's on my "to read"-list now. :D I'll keep peeking in here, though, to see what Melly and Mossy (and hopefully more people soon - vison said elsewhere she was currently reading it) come up with! :)

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Eine Blume der Asche meines Herzens


but being a cheerful hobbit he had not needed hope, as long as despair could be postponed.


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 02, 2006 12:41 am 
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I'm about a hundred pages in and loving it. My son was reading it over Christmas and he kept cackling and insisting on reading passages aloud to me - I was hooked before I even got custody of the book. I shall return when I've finished it, Mossy.


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 02, 2006 1:06 am 
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Ethel, I look forward to hearing what you think. :) It's hard not to get hooked. I think it only took a paragraph before I was telling my roommate that it was brilliant and amazing. ;) (She just rolled her eyes at me.) I wish I had had someone to read bit aloud to!

They've already started production on a movie of this.

"LOS ANGELES– New Line Cinema has hired Oscar-winning screenwriter Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons) to adapt the bestselling British fantasy novel Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell for the big screen.

i-Newswire, 2005-03-04 - Based on author Susanna Clarke’s critically acclaimed debut novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell tells the story of two feuding magicians who attempt to restore English magic in the age of Napoleon and combines the dark mythological fantasy of J.R.R. Tolkien with the social comedy of Jane Austen.

“Christopher's immense wit and intelligence make him ideally suited to adapt this brilliant, rich novel,” said New Line’s Executive VP Production Mark Ordesky, who is overseeing the project.

Hampton, who received a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for his script to 1988’s Dangerous Liaisons, has also written such critically acclaimed films as Imagining Argentina and The Quiet American.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is being produced by Clarke in partnership with Nick Martson’s recently formed production banner Cuba Pictures.

The project was brought into New Line Cinema by Ordesky and Senior VP European Production Ileen Maisel."

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 07, 2006 12:12 pm 
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Strange and Norrell on screen?! What an intriguing thought! I'll have to think about it a little more - not really sure how I'll feel about seeing it on screen as I have very fixed and subjective ideas about that book!

I love it, btw - the writing and style, the pseudo-historicism, the humour which has me on the verge of giggling every moment I'm not on tenterhooks, the wonderful plunge into Faerie as a dangerous, uncharted, raw place - a wonderful book! And I do wonder whether Clarke has more in her? This work is so individual.


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 07, 2006 2:20 pm 
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Hello Imp! So nice to see you! :wave:

Everybody's enthusiasm is really intriguing!

Mossy wrote:
combines the dark mythological fantasy of J.R.R. Tolkien with the social comedy of Jane Austen.

And this sounds like a must-read, too! :shock:

So, it looks like I have to hurry up reading it before the movie comes out! :D

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Eine Blume der Asche meines Herzens


but being a cheerful hobbit he had not needed hope, as long as despair could be postponed.


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 07, 2006 9:45 pm 
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Imp, nice to see you around. :) I agree with everything you said you. It would be difficult to follow up something as brilliant as JS&MN.

I have trouble picturing it as a movie, though I look forward to seeing it. I wonder how they'll manage to compress everything. Too bad they can't do a miniseries or a two or three part movie.

Hobby, indeed you must! :D This is something that needs, I think, be read before seeing a movie.

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PostPosted: Tue Jan 17, 2006 7:29 am 
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!!!!!!

Susanna Clarke is apparently working on another novel set in the same 'world.' There's speculation, which I agree with, that it will be ablout Childermass and Vinculus. Childermass was possibly my favourite character, and we definitely haven't heard the end of the book. I would love it if she wrote a book about those two!

Imp, I wonder if she has it in her to write another as well. JS&MN is brilliant and unique. As excited as I am, I doubt it will be as good.

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And it is said by the Eldar that in the water there lives yet the echo of the Music of the Ainur more than in any substance else that is in this Earth; and many of the Children of Ilúvatar hearken still unsated to the voices of the sea, and yet know not what for what they listen.


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 17, 2006 4:35 pm 
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Neil Gaiman often mentions Susanna Clarke on his blog (they're quite good friends) and from what he says, she's consistently brilliant. (I assume he's slightly biased, of course. :P ). I really think this could be as good as the first.

It's a terribly scary task for her, though. To achieve that level of success with your debut, and have to live up to all those expectations. *shudder*

This was on the booker longlist, wasn't it? When was the last time a *fantasy* novel was honoured in that way?


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PostPosted: Fri Jan 20, 2006 12:39 am 
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I hope you're right, Melly. :)
The only bad thing about JS&MN was that it ended. :P

A sequel, a good sequel, a really long sequel, a sequel with Childermass and Vinculus would make me. . . ridiculously happy.

You're right, it is a scary task for her. That's a hard act to follow.

Susanna Clarke wrote:
I once did a reading of one of my short stories. A thin, grey woman in the front row told me that she had never liked anything I wrote as much as the first story I ever wrote. Now she sits in the front row of my brain, explaining helpfully every now and then that nothing I wrote will ever be as good as that first story.

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 21, 2006 4:25 am 
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I just bought this book while we were in Ohio and have gotten to chapter 4 or 5. Love it so far!

Is it a bit tongue in cheek, perhaps? As I was reading about the state of Magic in England it sounded suspiciously like the state of literature in academia. ;)

But I haven't got deep enough into it to anticipate the plot.

Jn

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 23, 2006 5:11 pm 
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Awww, no more posts in this thread? :tumbleweed:

I finished the book last night. Absolutely could not put it down once I got about 300 pages into it.

Imp: Strange and Norrell on screen?! What an intriguing thought! I'll have to think about it a little more - not really sure how I'll feel about seeing it on screen as I have very fixed and subjective ideas about that book!

Yes, I'm wondering too what they will do with it on screen, Imp, as I feel very strongly that there was more than one layer to this book and my biggest inner smile was for the layer that does not show on top. :D

But, like Tolkien, the top layer is also one darn good yarn and even a superficial treatment would probably wear well.

Mossy, it was the questions you asked in your post that prompted me to make this book the first piece of fiction I've read in nearly a year. Thanks for such a great recommendation!

Do you mind if I express my thoughts on some of things you asked? I'm often guilty of digging up more than an author intended, but I did think this was a book about the death of good story-telling, the death of good literature in England, and that Magic served throughout as metaphor for the creative force of writing. This impression struck me almost from the first and was only reinforced as I got deeper. I thought that Vinculus' short speech near the end regarding all the kinds of 'books' that the new writing on him might be was kind of the final key.

************ SPOILERS ********************















Although the book is called Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, I think that perhaps it is really about John Uskglass. Vinculus, I believe, says that Strange and Norrell are just a spell that Uskglass is doing. What I could not figure out was what the spell was, what it was for. Was it to release those imprisoned in Lost-Hope?

Yes, I agree that the book is 'about' the Raven King. Strange and Norrell are the spell he casts to restore Magic to England.

As disaster upon disaster unfolded due to Norrell's ignorance of the force behind his skill, and Strange's indifference to discipline and detail, I identified them in my own mind with "inspiration" (Strange) and "perspiration" (Norrell). They must, of course, be bound together for the magical endeavor to be successful.

My favourite character, I think, was John Childermass. He was dark and wry and wonderful. I wish he had been in the book more, but at the same time, I think his character would not have worked so well if he had been. He seems to hold much of the story together, though I'm not entirely sure how.

I believe Childermass is "the muse." He spurs Norrell forward and finds the invisible connections that allow Strange's 'inspirational' contribution to be joined with Norrell's skill. Childermass is definitely the servant of the Raven King foremost - he sets things in motion.

What I would like to do, if I can find the time (probably not until next summer) is to go through the book and look up the names of all the passing characters and historical references. I had the impression that part of the irony of the book was not just the irony of 'theoretical magicians' - whom I took to be the literary academics, critics, etc. - and the government's attempts to put poesis in the service of the status quo, but that the slightly altered names of publishing companies were scattered throughout the book as minor characters (Sutton, Harcourt-Bruce?) and that there were many, many references to actual works of literature.

Publishing company names might have been coincidental, as a real historical person might have the same last name as the founder of a publishing company, but references to specific passages in literature would be harder to attribute to coincidence. For example, the spell which finally summons the Raven King is a spell to "find him, bring him, and bind him" which I took to be a bow to the last great work of magic performed in England. ;)

The one thing I find most praiseworthy in a book is good structure - structure that mirrors the tale itself - and this book struck me as among the finest in that department. And it was really pleasing because very few authors are capable of doing this. The last book where I really came away thinking - WOW! - was Life of Pi, and I hadn't read anything quite like it since Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, which is considered the greatest book by the greatest American author.

All the fake footnotes and fake history create a very academic tone at the beginning ... she advances with a perfectly serious expression on her face ... so one has the impression that this alternate history of England is part of the conceit and not actually an element of the tale. But as the story itself becomes more and more bizarre, you realize that magic is inserting itself into the structure and tone of the book in the same way that Strange is inserting himself into the endeavors of Norrell. The way the story is told actually changes as the story advances, as if the writer of this book is also affected by it. That, I thought, was amazingly skillful. Again, when I have more time, I'd like to re-read the book and try to locate the 'crossroads' ... the character of Segundus, I thought, signalled the shifting perspectives but I would have to sort of tear the book apart to analyze its structure and I'm still under its 'spell' and don't want to do that yet. ;)

You also might have noticed that she borrows the 'beginning of magic in England' - the appearance of the Raven King - from T.E. White's explanation of the origins of Uther Pendragon. The alternate history splits off from true history immediately after William I. The true origins of the Arthur tales predate the Conqueror by several hundred years, so it was interesting for me that she chose to copy White's formulation which is plainly wrong but at least creates an historical coherence for the story. I thought that was probably done as a tribute to White.

Interestingly, we are talking about this same problem in Shibboleth forum, in the Arithmetical Forumulation thread .... that Tolkien also sought to place Middle Earth in some historical relationship to real English history ... that is, where in England's prehistory did this particular phase occur? ... and he never really succceed to do this, never decided where exactly the Elves should be inserted ;) .... and White had the same problem with the Arthur tales. If you want to give the alternate history veracity you have to insert it into real history somewhere - show where the parallel, magic version departs from actual events ... and he chose to make Arthur an early Norman. I don't know why he chose to do this; it always bothered me, frankly. But she does the same thing, bringing the Raven King out of faery at the beginning of Norman rule.













***** END SPOILERS ***********



I believe that one of the reasons the book succeeds so well is because the magical history has been well-researched. The configuration of Black King and White King, and the red and white rose - these are from Johann Rosencruz, the founder of the Rosicrucians. This isn't an area of history with which I am very familiar, so I couldn't really identify the origins of all the magical stuff done in the book, but I have the impression that it is all legitimate, you know, stuff that medieval alchemists really did try to do. I noticed here and there in Rowlings books (which I also have not read while paying close attention) that she names some of her characters after actual medieval alchemists ... so one feels while reading that one has heard all of this before, which one probably has in various contexts. That gives a feeling of veracity that could not be achieved by pure invention.

It would be difficult to follow up something as brilliant as JS&MN.

The irony would be very difficult to reproduce unless she found another area of history that lent itself to similar ironic treatment. If it were my job ;) I would be inclined to make the sequel about the Johannites of the North, since their plight does seem to refer to the Manchester movement in England at that time ... there would be historical events she could tie the story to as she did with the Napoleanic Wars.

Jn

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 23, 2006 5:25 pm 
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I'm going to have to go find this book and read it.

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 23, 2006 6:13 pm 
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Voronwë, you would love it. (I think.) I bought the paperbound version which is more than 800 pages long. It's a book intended to last a long time!

Jn

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