A snail-paced story of everyday magic in Victorian England with footnotes aplenty.
*Contains no spoilers
Bloomsbury Publishing 2017
Reading this book was like wading through knee deep mud. I got to page 300 out of 1000 or so and I had to stop. This is a bestselling fantasy novel and a global sensation with a passionate cult following of readers. I was absolutely certain that I would love this and almost danced out of the bookshop with this brick-like book in my hot little hands.
Apparently Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel is the Marmite of fantasy novels. You will either want to marry this book and read it several times or else absolutely hate it.
I wanted so badly to love it. Set in Victorian England in a place where magic was a mundane element in people’s lives. This had all of the ingredients for success: snappy dialogue, gorgeous crumbling medieval towns, vivid descriptions of people and places. I enjoyed all of that.
Yet there were many baffling elements to this book. There are footnotes, like in a research paper or a textbook which do absolutely nothing to accelerate or enrich the storytelling, but instead served to bog you down with unnecessary detail and frustrating minutia that has little relevance to what is happening at particular points in the book where they appear.
I was waiting for something to click, for all of the cogs to be greased into motion, both within the plot of the book and also within my increasingly befuddled brain. I would be waiting forever, as this book has a lot of pompous, purple sounding prose in it and a lot of boring characters pontificating about various things, but very little forward-motion to the story.
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel has a glacial pace and a subtle ‘almost not there’ sense of humour to it. Don’t believe the hype my friends. Give it a go for a few 100 pages and if you don’t like it – stop. All 1000 pages of it make good tinder for a winter bonfire and that’s about it.
Apparently the BBC series based on the book is more pacey and enjoyable.