Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell – Susanna Clarke
June 10, 2015 § 3 Comments
I decided to take a long holiday from everything in Malaysia, pack my bags, and go home to New Zealand for slightly more than a month, some time around end-March. I had in front of me an 11-hour flight, and I thought to myself then, what better way to start this “home away from home” trip than by doing something I used to do a lot of when I was still living in New Zealand – read?
So I peered (I literally read and reread all the titles I had sitting on the shelves) at the books I owned, trying to decide on the best book to have with me on the plane. I wasn’t yet back in the reading groove, so to speak, and there was no particular “mood” for which any particular book stood out.
Then I decided, ah well, I’ll just pick the thickest book I have, and be gone with it. So it turned out to be Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.
I remember having bought this book at a second-hand bookstore after having read and completely enjoyed Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. It was, at the time, perhaps my first real “encounter” with fantasy fiction, and was delighted to think that there was yet another genre I could grow to love, along with dystopian and mystery. So when I found a beautiful copy of Jonathan Strange in the bookstore, I grabbed it with the aim to read it in the following weeks.
Of course, that didn’t happen, and the book merely followed me back from New Zealand to Malaysia, and back to New Zealand again this time around.
So back to my experience reading this – loved it.
To be honest, it’s a huge volume, and I did wonder if I was at all ready to start reading something so heavy (literally!), with all the cobwebs in my head. But I loved the opening chapter so much, it gave me just enough momentum to keep turning the pages, and by the time I reached the end of the second chapter, I was quite hooked.
This book is about two magicians, Mr Norrell and Jonathan Strange, who live in a time when magic is no longer actively practised, though many still claim to be theoretical magicians who study magic, and study the work past magicians have done, but do no magic of their own. Mr Norrell claims to be the only magician left in the whole of England to know how to do real magic. Later, Jonathan Strange is introduced as a man who gives magic a try simply because he had nothing better to do.
Clarke created quite a beautiful world with this book. A world where magic used to not only exist, but flourish. Sometimes I found myself reading about the magic done in this world, and look up from the pages thinking that maybe something like that could be conjured up too. I read about the corridors and paths that joined the mirrors of the world, and I started to look really closely into the mirror at home, wondering if perhaps I could catch a glimpse of it if I looked hard enough.
I found myself wanting to touch and feel that world where magic was possible. I didn’t quite want to live in that world, but I did want to visit it. Just like how a tourist would visit a foreign land for a year or two – that’s what I wanted to do.
I loved Jonathan Strange, much more than I did Mr Norrell. And because of that, I kept wondering, for quite a fair bit, how long more I had to read before Jonathan Strange would be introduced. I didn’t know then what kind of character he would be, but I loved his name first, and it only seemed natural that I would also love the character.
But here’s the thing with very thick volumes – I tend to forget really quickly what actually happened. In this case, I also left the book with my brother back in New Zealand, so I have nothing to refer to – no favourite parts, no beautiful quotes. It’s a shame I didn’t blog about this when it was still fresh in my head, but no matter – reading this book simply confirmed to me that the magical and fantastical realm is a very agreeable genre. They take me to far, far places – places I don’t even dream about – and draw me so near that I believe them to exist.