Monday, January 17, 2011

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

the moment Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (JS&MN) became available in local bookstores, i shifted to active search mode. its hefty price and weight (which was taxing on one’s wrist) gave me some pause, but after reading several glowing reviews i threw caution to the wind and bought a hardbound copy.

so was it worth the hassle? you bet.

i was barely halfway into the first chapter when i realized that i was truly ensnared with no hope of turning back. i raced through that 782-page volume like a hound hot on a scent. after finishing the book in 1.5 days (i still had to report for work), i went through it again —- this time, i savored every page and paused at every nook and cranny, including the footnotes.

i’d been trying to convince a lot of people since then to read JS&MN, but except for a couple of sci-fi/fantasy geeks at work, it didn’t really catch on among my friends and colleagues. i think the book’s length and ms. clarke’s writing style (which mirrors the style and conventions adopted by many authors of that era — particularly Jane Austen) must have put them off.

after i had raved about it for weeks, a friend asked me why i liked it so much. for some reason, that question floored me for a few seconds. i mean, how do you explain why you like something so much without sounding like an obsessive nutcase?

i finally blurted, “just read the book. you'll know why.”

i could have cited several things: susanna clarke‘s storytelling gifts, the elegant way she paints a scene (which would normally take lesser authors many paragraphs to convey and many years to perfect), and her beguiling way of convincing you that such things could have actually happened.

the thing about Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is that the tale unfolds with a deceptively reasonable and gently (and at other times, sly) teasing tone so as to make you believe its premise with unsettling ease and amused wonder.

i suppose that my fondness for JS&MN partly stems from my affection for Jane Austen’s books (haven’t read all of them though) and the fact that i like fantasy/sci-fi books in general. i have also devoured georgette heyer’s books, which are an excellent source of Regency social vignette and humor. in addition, ms. clarke manages to infuse her tale with some of the period’s famous historical figures, which can be a clever way of grounding a story (despite the fact that it’s a revisionist tale).

i just wish there were more books like this. oh, i also recently bought ms. clarke’s latest book, The Ladies of Grace Adieu, a collection of short stories relating to JS&MN’s story line. a delightful read, that. beautiful illustrations, too.


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