Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
With an epic novel, an epic review must follow...
Things that I did not especially enjoy or disliked about this novel were the pace and format. I generally feel that the formatting of the novel was designed (whether consciously or otherwise) purely to weed out the reading audience, a strategy that I could never agree with. The general population is arguably not eager to pick up a 1000+ page novel set in the 1800's, fantasy element nor hype withstanding. Readers of a certain caliber and or patience (re stubbornness) fast becoming the only standing audience. Were the formatting to be more straightforward (yes, this is all about the exhausting footnote system deployed), the story would automatically be more inclusive for the reading audience, and more easily navigated. The chosen formatting completely bogs down the pace of the novel itself; footnotes swallowing up pages upon pages of narrative endlessly more relevant and interesting than themselves. The formatting being largely responsible for the shortcomings of the pacing, there is also terrible issue of the prioritizing of the storyline itself. I don't think that this novel needed to be so sprawling at all, and found myself on multiple occasions wondering why so much of the book was devoted to certain events that ultimately had little to no sway on the main conflict and resolution. Basically: it felt like it was long-winded for the sake of being long-winded. Not maliciously pretentious, just too drawn out. Exhausting.
Finally, the positives; the characters and core story. No one would be able to drag themselves through a novel of this size and style without some sort of motivation or silver lining. The characters in the novel shine. Finding a novel with cast of characters this enticing and entirely fleshed out is rare, and Clarke deserves praise for that. They are what kept me reading; waiting and wading through other elements of the novel to find what awaited these enduring characters on the other side.
The story line: absolutely wonderful. I love a good parallel history setting, and one set in the early 19th century, fraught with gentlemen magicians and malicious fairies is just my cup of tea. The story itself is an uncontested gem, and with enough patience, absolutely worth the effort.
This novel is huge. It has pacing problems and an unfortunate format.
But this I can't emphasize enough: it is an amazing story with an incredible cast of characters. That is what makes it a triumph. One that a patient and steadfast reader will not be disappointed in.
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