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Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Susanna Clarke
Bloomsbury Publishing, 782 pages

Susanna Clarke
Susanna Clarke was born in Nottingham in 1959. A nomadic childhood was spent in towns in Northern England and Scotland. She was educated at St Hilda's College, Oxford, and has worked in various areas of non-fiction publishing, including Gordon Fraser and Quarto. In 1990, she left London and went to Turin to teach English to stressed-out executives of the Fiat motor company. The following year she taught English in Bilbao.

She returned to England in 1992 and spent the rest of that year in County Durham, in a house that looked out over the North Sea. There she began working on her first novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.

From 1993 to 2003, Susanna Clarke was an editor at Simon and Schuster's Cambridge office, where she worked on their cookery list. She has published seven short stories and novellas in US anthologies. One, "The Duke of Wellington Misplaces His Horse," first appeared in a limited-edition, illustrated chapbook from Green Man Press. Another, "Mr Simonelli or The Fairy Widower," was shortlisted for a World Fantasy Award in 2001.

She lives in Cambridge with her partner, the novelist and reviewer Colin Greenland.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
SF Site Interview: A Conversation With Susanna Clarke, Part 2
SF Site Interview: A Conversation With Susanna Clarke, Part 1
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell Website

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Donna McMahon

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Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell I'm just going to say a few words about Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, since I finally caught up with this book over Christmas and now I find it's on the Nebula ballot.

Anybody who takes a delight in Dickens or Thackery, or in Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon books, is likely to have a fine time reading Susanna Clarke's first novel. This is definitely a book that requires you to sit back and enjoy the journey because it is long and discursive, and even has footnotes. But the journey is full of delight -- quaint period detail, sly characterizations, and charming language.

In 1806 many leisured men study magic as a pastime, but since everyone knows that practical magic is ancient history, they do not attempt to cast spells. That is, until Mr. Norrell, a reclusive and eccentric gentleman, creates a sensation with a stunning display of magic and declares that he will champion the return of magic to England.

Although Norrell moves to London, he is a solitary man by nature, and does not easily mix in society -- until he meets and takes on an outgoing apprentice, Jonathan Strange. Together they are a sensation. But friction builds between them. Norrell is determined to suppress all knowledge of the Raven King, the greatest magician of England's history, because he knows that the ancient magic is dangerous, while Strange longs to conjure up the Raven King and travel the long abandoned fairy roads.

What neither of them realizes is that Norrell's meddling has already drawn the fairies' capricious and treacherous attention and they are in peril.

Susanna Clarke certainly has a knack for writing antique prose without actually burying her reader under verbiage. I only caught a couple of anachronisms, and she managed something that few historical writers do -- she conveyed that odd sense of dislocation one feels reading real historical writing. England of two centuries ago was more culturally different than we often appreciate -- and people were different, too. Part of the charm of this book is how well she conveys that.

After a long and very slow build up (it takes almost 200 pages for Jonathan Strange to even show up), I wasn't holding out much hope for a strong conclusion, but Clarke surprised me. This novel gathers momentum, and in the final chapters there is a great deal of action, culminating in a most satisfactory resolution.

I wouldn't be surprised if Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell wins the Nebula. It's entirely unique and a startling tour de force for a first novel.

Copyright © 2006 Donna McMahon

Donna McMahon discovered science fiction in high school and fandom in 1977, and never recovered. Dance of Knives, her first novel, was published by Tor in May, 2001, and her book reviews won an Aurora Award the same month. She likes to review books first as a reader (Was this a Good Read? Did I get my money's worth?) and second as a writer (What makes this book succeed/fail as a genre novel?). You can visit her website at http://www.donna-mcmahon.com/.


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