Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is one pound, fifteen ounces of pure delight. I only mention the weight because it is long, and if I have any advice to others it is
1. By all means, read it! It is an excellent use of your time, and
2. Buy the kindle version! (Unless you have some masochistic love of carrying two pound books around.)
It’s like an historical novel, but the history is completely made up, because it’s a fantasy novel. She has footnotes that reference books that never were. It’s funny. I had to buy reading glasses to make out the footnotes! (Another reason to get it on kindle.) But whatever hardships I went through to read this book were entirely worth it for the pure entertainment value. The characters are very true to human emotions. The wit is dry.
The plot centers around two magicians in England around the time of the Napoleonic wars. They are rivals, and amazing magicians, but also goofy and not all that amazing as people. Mr. Norrell has a simple wish: to be the only magician in England. So, he collects all of the magic books and hides them away, so no one can learn how to do magic. Jonathan Strange has a simple wish: to share magic with everyone in England. Then you throw in the gentleman with the silvery hair, an evil fairy who kidnaps people each evening from England and makes them dance all night in his ballroom of horrors, but whenever they try to tell other people in England about it, everything comes out as nonsense.
The true joy in this book is reading all of the little details of the lives of the minor characters. Even the subplots have subplots, and then footnotes. And then more subplots.
The TV series is fairly true to the book, but the ending is different. I like the book ending much better. As usual, the book is better all around, with all of its juicy little details.
The biggest surprise of all was at the very end, when I read that this was Susanna Clarke’s first book. Seriously? She has achieved quite a level of excellence for a first novel. I can’t wait to read her second.