Sorry, JS&MN: I read all 800 pages of you, and then I was just… disappointed. I gave you 20 hours of my life! You couldn’t give me fireworks and rainbows, instead of just fading out?? After reading no less than three reviews from book bloggers whose taste generally matches up with mine (and hearing from a couple of real-life friends that this book was on their most influential books list), I picked this monstrous book up from the library and settled in with great anticipation of the awesomeness that lay ahead. Except… it just wasn’t my thing.
Okay, so the story is set in England around the time of the Napoleonic War. There are bunches of theoretical magicians wandering around, reading old books about magic and arguing about it amongst themselves, but when Mr. Norrell traipses in doing practical magic, England is amazed. However, even though he can do real magic, and he wants to bring magic back to England, Mr. Norrell is a pretty tedious, selfish guy. Mr. Norrell keeps other people from becoming magicians! He buys every book about magic in the country (that really rankled me)! He manipulates his friends and enemies, and is easily manipulated by them! What a jerk.
Soon (and by soon, I mean about 200 pages into the book), another magician arises. His name is Jonathan Strange, and he is everything that Mr. Norrell is not–open, willing to do magic for others, married (!). Mr. Norrell is drawn to Mr. Strange, and he takes Strange on as his apprentice.
During the book, these things happen: A fairy comes to control the lives of a few people who were touched by magic. Jonathan Strange uses magic to help defeat Napoleon’s troops. Mr. Norrell is a jerk to Mr. Strange, and the two have a parting of ways. Jonathan Strange tries to convince everyone to look to the Raven King, John Uskglass, as the originator of magic in England; Mr. Norrell strongly disagrees. Very magical and awesome things take place in the last 200 pages of the book (where I got really excited that all the time I put into this book might pay off), and then they dwindle down to a quiet ending.
Things I loved about this book: Arabella (Jonathan Strange’s wife). The footnotes (there are some great supplementary stories about magic and fairies there). The subtle humor: “‘Tell her she must not thank me…’ Dr. Greysteel waved his hand vigorously as if a reputation for generous deeds adn benvolent actions were a little like a mosquito and he hoped in this way to prevent one from landing on him.” The fact that the writing style is so similar to books that were actually written in the early 19th century.
Still, I feel like for the time I put into this book, I should have received a bigger payoff. I can see why some people would love this book so much–the writing is beautiful, and the story is interesting–but it just wasn’t for me. And I will spend no more time on this huge, lengthy book.
Rating: Good but Forgettable