This morning, I finally finished Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. It took me much longer to read this book than I expected! I started it in, like, August or something ridiculous. This is not a short read, and the historical/academic tone of it almost makes it a sometimes tedious read. That being said, I did really, really enjoy it.
I actually tried to read this book once before, several years ago, and I did not get very far into it. In fact, when I picked it up again at the recommendation of my boyfriend, I couldn’t actually remember most of the beginning of it, even though I knew I had read it.
I read (most of) The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories before I started this one, and I think the short-story format helped get me more accustomed to Clarke’s style and the kind of world she creates. Many of the stories in Ladies are connected to the plot of JSMR in some way, and they provided a nice frame of reference as I was reading.
JSMR was one of those books that I knew I would love when I finally gave myself the chance to get into it. Clarke provides a wealth of backstory to help understand sometimes even minute aspects of the novel. I am thankful I read this in Kindle version because it made reading the footnotes (and porting the book around) much easier–that is, once I figured out how the footnotes worked in the app. If you just touch the screen wrong, you will end up leaving yourself highlighted notes rather than engaging the hypertext.
Clarke writes a number of compelling characters that kept me interested in what was happening despite the often dry language. She has mastered the tone very well. I particularly like the way all of the seeming subplots link back together in the end. Overall, this book was well written and enjoyable, and the ending was incredibly satisfying (unlike most books I tend to read). I would recommend this to someone who is a fan of the 1800s style of writing or someone really into texts that seem historical, but if you are unsure, I would pick up her short story collection before making the decision to jump into this book. My Kindle version came in at 846 pages, not including all the footnotes, and my boyfriend’s print version is in two volumes. This book will take anyone a while to read, if only because it is sometimes hard to read more than a few paragraphs without falling asleep when you are a right-before-bed reader like me.