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Bill

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

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It's possibly due to a failure of imagination on my part, but I just can't stomach books, films or TV programmes that involve the supernatural. My natural cynicism kicks in and switches off my attention. Trolls, hobbits, fairies, ghosts, space/time travel, magic, supernatural powers, telepathy, psychics of any kind - I'd rather read the phone directory. Hazel, your perceptive comments just reinforce why I wouldn't read this book.

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I had been assured that the last 200+ pages were worth the journey.

Well I hope you're not going to be asking for your money back...

 

I would agree with many of the faults you outline, Hazel, but I think we differ on how much they weigh the book down. The vignettes you mention are often very good indeed and I think I saw more of a unifying progression linking them. A central core is actually the magic itself and the nature of its return to Britain, defined by the contrasting approaches of Strange and Norrell, always with the Raven King hanging in the background (though the final resolution to that was a tad disappointing in its brevity and vagueness). Also the gentleman with the thistledown hair and the intrigue he weaves provides another consistent undertow.

 

I think in a way it is another nod to some nineteenth century narratives. The disparate characters and themes being drawn together unexpectedly in the final stages is quite Dickensian, though obviously Clarke is nothing like the storyteller that he was in terms of keeping us gripped.

 

I'm sorry it didn't hit the spot for you, though.

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My natural cynicism kicks in and switches off my attention. Trolls, hobbits, fairies, ghosts, space/time travel, magic, supernatural powers, telepathy, psychics of any kind
I am very touch and go with this kind of thing, especially sci-fi. I can either hate it or love it. Or be completely indifferent to it. It usually has to have something 'more' to grab me. This book severely lacked in 'more'.

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A central core is actually the magic itself and the nature of its return to Britain, defined by the contrasting approaches of Strange and Norrell, always with the Raven King hanging in the background
I agree with that David, but that wasn't enough to grab me as a reader. And it was dealt with in a very secondary way. She didn't show that through her characters, her characters appears as marionettes to fill that concern.

 

I think in a way it is another nod to some nineteenth century narratives. The disparate characters and themes being drawn together unexpectedly in the final stages
Oh absolutely, though I think Clark's insistence to this design hampered her. Clearly, along with the style of a 19thC 3 decker comes size and I wonder how much she padded out to fill a big book rather than just tell her story and size be a simple eventuality.

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that wasn't enough to grab me as a reader.

Fair enough.

 

her characters appears as marionettes to fill that concern.

There's certainly truth in that. It was far too late in the book before the characterisation really started to develop depth.

 

I wonder how much she padded out to fill a big book rather than just tell her story and size be a simple eventuality.

I certainly don't think it was padding. I think she took something like ten years to write the book and I suspect she was simply caught in the world and unable to exercise enough editorial discipline. That's where agents and editors should have stepped in, but as has been noted elsewhere that's not a strong point in the modern publishing world.

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Also, what I like about most 19thC fiction, primary or secondary examples, is the ability to bring to life the geography of the place, the feel of the setting, the look, sounds, smells of the landscape on which the story is played out. Dickens does this par excellence, and I thought Faber was hugely successful in this regard with The Crimson Petal...but this is where this book's greatest failing lay - Clark just didn't bring 19thC London or Venice to life for me. Apart from the period details, it felt like any time or place.

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All great but their power watered down by being thrown into a huge clunker of a book that you had to wade through to discover anythign worthwhile. Size isn't always everything - it depends what you do with it.

Gosh, I'm not so sure I agree here to be honest. I absolutely love the works of Charles Dickens. I love the meandering within his stories. I feel that Susannah Clarke didn't just mimic the 19th Century turn of phrase, she also mimicked the 'whole-chunks-that-have-little-or-no-point' style that you get in Dickens works in particular.

 

I don't know who said it but I'll paraphrase a quote I read somewhere previously. 'Dickens works are marvellous but the misery is that if he were around today people would say, he needs a good editor!'

 

Yes, there are weak characters, I agree, there are also chunks of text that are 'irrelevant' to the main thrust of the story but I liked them, I felt that we were at times, living with these new stories and when they were over I felt that there could indeed have been a separate book dedicated to them and I wanted to know more. That's also a good feeling. :)

 

However, not everyone's tastes are the same, it would be a boring world if they were :D

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I feel that Susannah Clarke didn't just mimic the 19th Century turn of phrase, she also mimicked the 'whole-chunks-that-have-little-or-no-point' style that you get in Dickens works in particular.
Hmmm, I guess it comes down to opinion, but I think reading a Dickens' novel, you do get the feeling that you are meandering, but by the end, he ties everything up so well, that you realise nothing was irrelevant. Everything he writes has a purpose and propels the plot in some way. I don't think Clarke accomplished this at all. I felt a lot of the time, she meandered off her point and lost sight of it. And once you reached the end, there wasn't the same feeling of solid satisfaction that you get with a Dickens, Collins, or even Faber's novel.

 

However, not everyone's tastes are the same, it would be a boring world if they were :D

Absolutely.

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Okay, I'm beginning to get a clearer picture of your 'end view' :) Yes, for the most part Dickens ties up the loose ends very well in his books whereas Clarke didn't in this book.

 

In this respect, I actually liked that! I felt that we were simply offered a glimpse into what was happening and glimpses of the magical world that existed. However, that's the way I chose to interpret it and thus I enjoyed it, had I been looking for the loose ends to be tied up then I would have been irritated.

 

I don't know what the author intended but that's the concious choice I made in interpreting the story. I see where you are coming from. :)

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had I been looking for the loose ends to be tied up then I would have been irritated.

 

Unfortunately, for Clarke then, picking up a 19thC novel, you firmly expect for all plot-lines to be tied up. So if she was looking to recreate that era of novel-writing, she failed.

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Unfortunately, for Clarke then, picking up a 19thC novel, you firmly expect for all plot-lines to be tied up. So if she was looking to recreate that era of novel-writing, she failed.

Or maybe it's just a new twist on the original idea :D We'll never know unless she registers and posts here (hopes and prays she does).

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Or maybe it's just a new twist on the original idea :D We'll never know unless she registers and posts here (hopes and prays she does).
:D That would be good! Though I am scared she might just be a malevolent faerie herself, and she might put an enchantment on me.

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Intrigued to see the Beeb is bringing out a 6-part adaptation of this later in the year. Quite an undertaking - especially when you get to the Napoleonic wars! I'll be fascinated to see what they do with Lost-Hope.

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Well, I have finally finished. And having finished I felt eligible to read all the above posts and open all the spoilers.  It's been a good discussion and everyone has touched on things I thought as I was reading.

I regret not knowing the north country at all, because I can see how the familiarity must have 'grounded' the story.

I really enjoyed the footnotes, because they were all interesting, and were welcome breaks from the vastness of the main story.

The story itself, together with its meanderings, definitely drew me in and unlike some previous posters I was able to experience the various locations, feel the weather, immerse myself in the dark tower ...  And yes, it reminded me very strongly of Peake's "Gormenghast".

I felt that the characters were sufficiently developed that I could put bodies and faces on them, so was happy with that. As to character development, hmm, there was too much else going on for me to worry about that.

I agree with the observation that Strange was really dumb in failing to notice the fairy interference in the lives of the ladies. But I loved everything to do with the fairies.

As to the magic itself, excellent for being so down to earth and occasionally hit-and-miss!

Definitely a book to keep.

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I tried to read this a few years ago, and found it unreadable. I gave up pretty quickly. I can see that it would make a great TV programme though. We have the first episode recorded and will watch it soon!

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I bought this some time ago, but have been put off reading it by it's size. Having watched the first episode of the TV version last week I have now donated the book to a charity bookshop.

I might watch episode two tonight if I've nothing better to do, but am not in a state of keen anticipation.

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