Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Rating: 4.5


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Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell: A Novel

Author: Susanna Clarke

Reader: Simon Prebble

Short Review: A gorgeously read version of a Hugo Award winning modern epic I absolutely love. Clarke’s novel is part Harry Potter, part Tolkein, part comedy of manners, and part historical fiction of the Napoleonic Wars. It’s long, detailed, engaging, and by turns hilarious and heartbreaking. Simon Prebble is a distinctly talented reader, with just the right tone and accent, but for one small niggling mistake that would bother only, well, me and a few of my friends. Settle into this book and cherish it as you would Tolkien or Dickens or Ovid.

Long Review: I’ll get the pip out of the way first. The word “sídhe” is important in the second half of the book. It’s an Irish word, and it’s pronounced “shee.” Prebble says “sid-hey” whenever he encounters the word, and it makes me want to strangle him just a little bit every time. I forgive him, he does it again, I forgive him, he does it again . . . you see how it goes.

Apart from that petty complaint, Prebble is a fantastic reader. He voices a myriad of characters clearly, imparting each with an individual voice and tone. One of the true charms of this book is the conflation of very proper English sensibilities and manners with improper, difficult to accept magic and magician’s idiosyncrasies. Prebble gets the tone just right, throughout. He hops from explaining the delicacies of a lady’s table manners or quiet reminders to her husband that he is monopolizing the conversation to a quasi-realistic description of a spell to revive the dead, and back again. His diction is gorgeous, which is of great importance to a work like this, and yet he changes pace and tone as the story demands, without ever seeming like a bad actor or over-excited kid. He’s a great reader, and I’ll be seeking out more of his narration.

Clarke’s book is an absolute treat. She’s clearly a careful researcher, and the sections describing the facts of the Napoleonic wars ring true. As do the sections describing fantastical, magical things that never happened during the Napoleonic Wars. She also sketches her characters well. Jonathan Strange is flawed enough that we like him but are frequently annoyed by him–good should never be too good to be real–and Mr. Norrell is infuriating right until we need him to redeem himself, and then he does. The women in the book are lovely and soft and loyal, but also strong and brilliant and dangerous when they need to be. The dozens of supporting characters are intriguing and seem to function independently and rationally, except when they’re mad. I would gladly follow the stories of The Raven King, Vinculus, Stephen Black, or Emma Pole through another epic.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is also available through the Simply Audiobooks Rental Program.



5 Comments

  1. Danny Thompson wrote:

    Thanks for an excellent review, and for the ‘pip’.

    I’m mid-way through Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, and as I drove to work this morning eagerly listening to it I made a mental note to post a review on Audible praising Simon Prebble’s reading as much as the content itself.

    But then, on the drive home, Prebble started talking about the “Day-Oh-een Sid-Hay”. I don’t speak Irish, but I know enough to recognise this as a badly mistaken attempt at “Daoine Sidhe” – Fairy folk or people. This is usually pronounced (roughly) “Dih-na Shee”.

    I’m trying to not let it bother me, but it does. And the fact that I’m bothered bothers me too.

    It is such a shame to find this amidst an extremely impressive and otherwise flawless piece of narration.

    Danny

  2. Lanea wrote:

    Danny, you’ve made me feel a bit less petty for focusing so closely on that flaw. I’m glad to know it drives at least the two of us crazy.

  3. […] Review: I absolutely loved Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. The only real fault I found with it (and yes, I know this is obnoxious) was Prebble’s […]

  4. Vickie wrote:

    This book was the most protracted, rambling, shambles of a book I have ever encountered. No narrator, no matter how masterful, could give life to this absolute drivel.

  5. […] characters. The story sprawls a bit, but I find the breadth of it very enjoyable, much as I did Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. This book is shorter and more accessible, but both are rich, detailed, and beautifully […]

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