On the shelf: ‘Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell’ by Susanna Clarke

By Amy Cochran, GRPL, Seymour Branch


Every time I read Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clark, I find myself completely immersed once more. Despite numerous efforts, I have yet to find another novel that so perfectly mixes the elements I especially love in a story: Jane Austen-style English manners, British history and subtle fantasy. 


In early nineteenth century England during Napoleon’s heyday as a major threat, two magicians work to bring magic back to the world. Quiet, mousy Mr. Norrell and his increasingly successful and confident apprentice, Jonathan Strange find themselves beset both by their own competitive natures and long-forgotten powers that have taken an interest in the mortal world once more. 


Clark took took ten years to research and write this huge, complex story, and the effort shows in every intricately laid-out detail. She has painstakingly created a Britain where magic has been intertwined in politics and life for centuries, and gives plenty of fascinating hints to the hidden world that lies behind our own.


There is a sly and witty sense of humor in descriptions of situations and characters, and extensive footnotes fill in what we need to know about this slightly different, magical Britain. I happen to love footnotes, especially fictionalized ones, plus I find it difficult to resist any book that makes me feel as if I’m in an ancient, snowy wood where anything could happen.