Strange & Norrell

Some books are like a feather bed. Not that they lull you to sleep. More  a case of falling into them like a comfortable dream.

If you love a book as much as a feather bed you should not ask your book club to read it. You may hope they will also be dreamily enthralled. They will be too polite to say they hate it. 

Jonathon Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke is a fantasy novel. Some people are snobby about fantasy novels. I believe the best of any genre should be wonderful. I don’t love crime novels or romance novels but I have read some damn fine ones. Strange and Norrell is one of the best of its genre. It won the Hugo Award for Best Novel and it was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize. It crosses the literary fantasy divide. 

The book is an alternative history set during the Napoleonic Wars when two magicians are building careers and returning magic to England.  Neither of the magicians is terribly likable.

Both are arrogant and Norrell is a “sort of a miser who hoarded magic instead of gold.”

Strange is described – “His face had two faults; a long nose and an ironic expression. It is also true that his hair had a reddish tinge and as everybody knows, no one with red hair can ever truly be said to be handsome.”

Clarke willingly admits she is influenced by Jane Austen’s style and the imitation is clear if a little darker than Austen!. 

It has been remarked (by a lady infinitely cleverer than the present author) how kindly disposed the world in general feels to young people who either die or marry. Imagine then the interest that surrounded Miss Wintertowne! No young lady ever had such advantages before: for she died upon the Tuesday, was raised to life in the early hours of Wednesday morning, and was married upon the Thursday; which some people thought too much excitement for one week.

I don’t often laugh in books but there is a gentle wit throughout Clarke’s book. It is difficult to decide which quotes to include. 

The York magicians had all looked other the letter and expressed their doubts that anybody with such small handwriting could ever make a tolerable magician. 

or

He was a man who knew there were such things as jokes in the world or people would not write about them, but had never actually been introduced to one or shaken its hand. 

I could rave about this book but what did the Pocket Bookclub think?  Comments ranged from – ‘I didn’t hate it’ to ‘I didn’t finish it’ to … is that crickets I hear chirping? Silence

For, though the room was silent, the silence of half a hundred cats is a peculiar thing, like fifty individual silences all piled one on top of another.

One thing some people found difficult was the extensive footnotes. Clarke uses them to tell tales as asides or provide scholarly context. Sometimes the footnotes take up most of the page. If you like to listen to books the footnotes flow seamlessly into the body of the book.

This is my go-to relax book. Listening to it has less calories than chocolate and it just as delicious. 

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