Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell relates the history of the revival of practical magic in England during the early 1800s. At first, Mr. Norrell is the only practical magician in England, that is, a magician who can do magic, not simply talk about it. A reticent man, he is eventually persuaded to offer his services to the English government in the war against Napoleon with surprising results. Sometime after Mr. Norrell begins aiding the British government by performing magic, Jonathan Strange is approached by a strange man who delivers a prophecy involving two magicians in England. Strange later goes to Londan and becomes the student of Mr. Norrell. As a result of Norrell’s miserly attitude and reluctance to share his magic books with his student, Mr. Strange is forced to be creative and learn much on his own. This ability serves him well when he goes abroad to perform magic in the camp of the Duke of Wellington in his fight against the French. Enchantments abound and readers learn that even magic has its limits.
This novel of over 700 pages has room for a virtual parade of characters and Clarke skillfully shows us many: Childermass, Mr. Norrell’s man of business; Drawlight and Lascelles, hangers-on, plotters and schemers, and self- serving friends of Mr. Norrell; John Uskglass, mostly absent, but the much discussed King of the Ravens who was raised by fairies, and Vinculus, a curious street magician and deliverer of prophecies, whose father was hanged for book-murder. The illustrations are reminiscent of Dickens and certain passages in the book evoke thoughts of him as well. The book starts readers out at a walk, slowly builds up speed, and tears along at full gallop by the end. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is Susanna Clarke’s first novel and it invites a sequel.
Reviewed by mc, 11/04. Other reviews by mc.