Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Bringing Magic Back To England

I DID IT!!!!  I finally finished my big fat book!  Clocking in at a whopping 1006 pages of teeny tiny type complete with footnotes is the book Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke.  This book had been on my TBR pile for a while and got pulled out after Hubbin discovered a BBC version of the book.  Despite it's length the book was very readable and I am now ready to attempt to ramble about it.
The book is written as a bit of a history, complete with foot notes and follows two very different magicians the staid and cautious Mr. Norrell and the younger more fiery Jonathan Strange.   Essentially we are taken to an alternate version of Victorianish England (though there is a King on the throne not a Queen) where magic is accepted as part of life.  Being a magician is a respectable job and magic is talked about in all circles.  However, magic at this time is only theoretical.  Magicians are actually just men who study any sort of magical text they can get there hands on.  True magic has been gone from the realm of England for hundreds of years for some reason.  Enter Mr. Norrell, a scholarly little man who is obsessed with buying, reading and hoarding books of a magical nature.  To this end he has actually been able to perform real magic and is brought to England to become the authority and sole practicer of magic.  Mr. Norrell has in his employ a mysterious man by the name of Childermass who pretty much runs Mr. Norrell's life for him. To prove the respectability and genuine nature of magic, Mr. Norrell engages the help of a fairy, known as the Gentlman with the thistle-down hair, to bring the Lady Pole back to life after she dies.  The deal Mr. Norrell brokers with the
Gentleman essentially dooms the Lady Pole to be held in fairy whenever the Gentlman chooses. Along comes Jonathan Strange, a gentleman who has started practicing magic after a run in with the vagabond Vinculus who speaks a prophecy stating among other things that two magicians will bring back magic to England.  We then follow our two magicians as they use their own styles of magic, sometimes together and sometimes at odds to help England win a war, protect the country and try and discover lost spells.  Meanwhile the Lady Pole continues to be sucked into fairy at any given time, makeing her appear quit mad. The butler Stehpen black, a black servant who the Gentleman has taken a liking to does his best to support Lady Pole.  Strange's wife Arabella is the only other person who is able to be with Lady Pole.  Eventually the two magicians have a falling out.  Mr. Norrell wants to continue and keep a tight reign on all things magic while Strange wants to bring magic to the masses.  All kinds of stuff happens one of which is the unfortunate death of Arabella Strange.  Strange leaves the country to finish his book and recover from his wife's death and Mr. Norrell stays in London to fret and work with the government on improving the country.  Strange discovers that madness is the key to seeing fairy and finds a way to distill it to its essence and become mad at will.  With this madness he discovers the Gentleman has actually stolen Arabella to fairy to be a companion to Lady Pole and she is not dead after all.  After a battle of wills, the Gentleman wraps Strange in eternal night and Strange devotes his time to trying to find John Uskglass, the Raven King who brought magic to England in the first place.  More crazyness and mayhem and Strange finally comes to Mr. Norrell for help.  The two magicians work together to find a way to summon the Raven King and unintentionally give Stephen Black the power to finally defeat the Gentleman.  Lady Pole and Arabella are released and Mr. Norrell and Jonathan Strange, wrapped in their eternal night disappear from England.  Childermass, along with Vinculus assemble all who want to learn magic and utilize the power that now flows through England.  This my friends does not even begin to summarize the complexity of this book, the stories and the characters, I just do not have enough time or space to truly give you the gist of this book, so this will have to do.

World Building - This book has a very Jane Austinesque vibe when it comes to world building.  We get to see a variety of English places (and few other places in Europe) mostly through the eyes of the gentleman class.  It is a bit drearier and a bit harsher then true Austin, but the vibe totally comes through.  One extra aspect of world building is the realm of fairy.  I really very much enjoyed how the author built the world of fairy as being right next door to our world, complete with cross-roads and touch stones.  The best parts of fairy where the descriptions of the familiar with a fantastic twist.  Ever time I picked up this book I was easily able to slip into the worlds the author created.

Story - So this was an interesting book as far as story goes.  I am not 100% sure that there was an actual whole beginning, middle and end story or if it was more of a history with the reader just catching a slice of time.  There were bits of story, mostly connected with individual characters, but over all I felt that this was more of an old school history of an alternate place/time.  That being said, it was still a book that I could pick up and read and stay interested in so yeah.  Maybe it was that there were many many stories with in the framework of the history that kept it interesting...yeah, so not really sure how to describe it, but I liked it.

Character - This may be where the Austin feel really came through in this book.  The characters were many and varied and true to themselves.  Right when I was about to get tired of reading about a certain character or story line, bam the author switched to somebody else and it was awesome.  I particularly liked the Raven King as an overarching presence that was constantly felt but only once actually seen; Childermass who probably actually knew and understood more then any other character; Stephen Black a man who was kind, smart, brave, and searching to belong; Vinculus the vagabond man with all the answers and of course the Gentleman who tied everybody together.  The characters may be the best part of this book.

Editing - This was a very very long book and I want to be tempted to say that it could have easily been broken up...but you know what?  I'm glad it is one long self contained book.  It really gives the vibe of a history in this format.  For all it's length, the way it is broken up in parts and chapters makes it very very readable and the fun footnotes that are scattered through out just adds to the overall feel.  It was consistent, follow able and readable, editing for the win.

The Author - Ok so I really feel like the author and the way she wrote this book has to be talked about.  She started writing it in 1993 and did not actually publish the whole book until 2003, that my friends is dedication.  She worked on it in her spare time and had to work with trying to put all her ideas and fragments into a cohesive form.  I totally feel her and her writing style 'cause every time I try and write something I feel the same way.  I obviously don't have the patience she does, but it makes the book all that better for me that I feel a kinship with her thought process and writing style.

Fairy - I love love love old school English/Welsh/Scottish/Irish/Celtic style fairy land.  This book brought the old school ideas of stolen humans, especially children, timelessness, agreements between fairy and human kind, the glamour vs the reality of magic, just everything that I love.  I felt like I could go hunt down a fairy road and ride off and explore this whole other world behind the mirrors.  I have not read such a great take on the old school fairy in a while and I have to say I loved every second of it and totally want to read more about the Raven King...hint hint lol.

Manners - Ok ok I know I have mentioned the Austin feel of this book 100 times, but here it is again.  I am a Jane Austin fan, her ability to mingle peoples everyday lives with wit and story have always made her books a go to for me.  When an author can capture that style in a whole new book I am always happy.  This book had the feel of manners and little intrigues (along with the big stuff), just instead of marriages it was magic.  The combination of the Austin feel with the old school Fairy feel and then turning it into something wholly original is pretty epic.

Overall Impression - I liked this book, it is a book book, it is a book for people who like to READ!  This is not a book for the beach, or a quick pick me up, it requires concentration, time, and a love of reading.   That being said, it is a wonderful book, I give it 8 out of 9 viles of mad cat lady essence and recommend it to anybody who loves to read, likes Austen, magic, Fairy or just some good writing.  Happy Reading Everybody!

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