Free Shit Friday - Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell

Friday, June 17, 2011
Today's Free Shit Friday offering is the 2005 Hugo Award winning novel Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clark. This is a first edition in good shape with the exception of some impression grooves on the dust jacket.

"It's 1808 and that Corsican upstart Napoleon is battering the English army and navy. Enter Mr. Norrell, a fusty but ambitious scholar from the Yorkshire countryside and the first practical magician in hundreds of years. What better way to demonstrate his revival of British magic than to change the course of the Napoleonic wars? Susanna Clarke's ingenious first novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, has the cleverness and lightness of touch of the Harry Potter series, but is less a fairy tale of good versus evil than a fantastic comedy of manners, complete with elaborate false footnotes, occasional period spellings, and a dense, lively mythology teeming beneath the narrative. Mr. Norrell moves to London to establish his influence in government circles, devising such powerful illusions as an 11-day blockade of French ports by English ships fabricated from rainwater. But however skillful his magic, his vanity provides an Achilles heel, and the differing ambitions of his more glamorous apprentice, Jonathan Strange, threaten to topple all that Mr. Norrell has achieved. A sparkling debut from Susanna Clarke--and it's not all fairy dust."

In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit I have not yet listened to my copy of this book, so I don't have an opinion of the quality of the writing or story. However, it apparently won alsmost every award it was eligible for in 2005, and I bought it for $1.08 at our local "Friends of the Library" book sale, so I figured it was a good choice for my weekly giveaway.

Da rules.

11 comments:

vince said...

Count me in. It sounds like an interesting book.

insticat - just add water!

Konstantin B. said...

I have the book, but heard mixed reviews. Let us know what you think, I haven't read it yet.

Eric said...

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is f*king awesome--just an amazing book, and I recommend it strongly to any fantasy lover with the caveat that it's a dense read: Clarke actually writes it as if she's writing an old-school scholarly non-fiction book from a century-and-a-half ago, complete with extensive footnotes and 19th-Century novelist digressions. It's an amazing exercise in world-building a fantastic alternate reality, a story that manages to be epic and personal at the same time (the grand history of English magic, the outcome of the Napoleonic Wars and Britain's foreign relations with Faerie comes down to one man's personal relationships with his wife and his mentor), offers a fairly original-yet-classical take on magic and folklore, and really lives up to the label "tour de force"--but it's not always an easy read, which (ironically) is part of the book's brilliance. That is, it's not written in the contemporary conversational style of a writer like Neil Gaiman who covers similar kinds of territory, but if you've spent any time at all with 19th Century lit you'll find the book an amazing pastiche of that era's literary styles.

Two more things I'd have to add:

The first is that I really wonder how well the book translates to audiobook or if it does at all, since an essential aspect of the book's style is it's very bookiness. You have to read this one the way people used to read books like this when people used to write them: one finger marking a passage or footnote while you get to a point where you can return to the footnote or passage, turning pages back and forth to see how something here calls back to something there, lingering over some of the language choices. And then there's the flavor bits mentioned in the capsule Janiece quotes: the occasional archaic spellings and citations to imaginary volumes of history and sorcery. I don't want to say that it can't be translated to another format. But part of the wonderful conceit of Strange & Norrell is that this is supposed to be a book you might find covered in dust in an old bookstore, published sometime in the 1800s, perhaps as a looseleaf book that the original purchaser had to have bound and then passed along as part of a library until sold in an estate sale. I'd go so far as to say that Norrell is an argument for books as a medium (as opposed to e-books, audiobooks, webpages, et al.), and the ways in which a book is a special experience. (It's probably not merely incidental that Susanna Clarke's background is in publishing, editing and languages.)

The second thing I'd mention is that Clarke's follow-up to Norrell, a collection of short stories called The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories is worth a read and is more accessible than Norrell. If you loved Norrell or if you're curious about Clarke's writing and intimidated by Norrell, you might check it out.

Phew! Sorry if I got excited!

Phiala said...

I agree with Eric (and don't need another copy): this is a wonderful book, for readers interested in a certain kind of fantastic book experience. Audiobook? Um.

Random Michelle K said...

I own this and I LOVE it. However, I can see that it might not be for all readers. I think Michael started it and never finished it

It's kinda Georgette Heyer + Good Omens + Ellen Kushner + Patrick O'Brien (only without the ships)

And like Eric and Phiala, I'm not sure how well this would translate into an audio book, because of all the footnotes.

And trust me, the footnotes are almost the best part of the book.

Though I disagree with Eric about "The Ladies of Grace Adieu" that was hit and miss for me. The stories I liked, I REALLY liked, but others... meh.

Anne C. said...

As another reviewer who already owns the book:

I agree with Eric, et al on the quality and style of the book. I love books that become part of the reality they are trying to create. It is very well done. It is much more accessible if you're used to reading literature from previous centuries, and the footnotes ARE fabulous.

As for the audiobook question: curiously enough, I actually HAVE listened to this book on audio, but only after I read the book. It wasn't intentional, I read the book, really enjoyed it, and then years later ran across the CDs at the library. I was in the middle of a project for which I required audio-only entertainment. It was enjoyable. I believe the footnotes were incorporated into the body of the story thusly, "the book Kingdom of Faerie and Its Denizens, footnote one. Originally published in 1810 by..."
Audio-wise, it relied MUCH more on the quality of the story and less on the conceit of the "found literature."

Excellent book.

filelalaine said...

Wow, after these fantastic reviews, I too want to read this. Count me in too, please.

Nathan said...

Ditto what Eric said.

Only terse-er-er.

And I didn't read the followup.

WendyB_09 said...

Blogger has now eaten answer 3 times, they've changed something and it is not iPhone friendly anymore.

Anyhow, I'm in if you'll take a late entry- could not get to your site yesterday.

WendyB_09 said...

Blogger has now eaten answer 3 times, they've changed something and it is not iPhone friendly anymore.

Anyhow, I'm in if you'll take a late entry- could not get to your site yesterday.

Janiece said...

Wendy, I don't choose a winner until late Saturday night or early Sunday morning (if I'm in town). so you're good.