f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: <i>Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell</i>

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Monday, November 29, 2004

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

First days back from long holidays are always a bit busy, so I don’t have as much time to post today as I will later this week.

Today I’ll take a moment to post about the book I’m currently reading: Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.

The book is a fantasy and yet written as though it were almost a history text or an engaging biography. (There are even footnotes.) It is essentially the story of two men—two magicians—who are determined to bring back magic to England. Reviews are calling it “Harry Potter for adults” though I know tons of adults who read Harry Potter. I see it more as “fantasy for people who read David McCullough’s John Adams.

The best biographies in the world—and Adams is always mentioned as one of the finest recent books—read with the urgent drive of great fiction, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that a fiction author could borrow the style.

A few other notes:

  • Placing your two main characters on opposite sides of a important issue is a fantastic (and very easy) way to introduce lots o’ conflict. Consider it.

  • I think a more agile mind than mine could easily draw lots of metaphors and analogies from the book, using the contrasting ideologies of the two main characters as reference points for the current modern vs. post-modern discussion going on in the church. I should like someone to tackle it for Books and Culture.

  • I have no idea if this book needs to be 800 pages long. Probably not. But there is something wonderful about simply immersing yourself in a story that lingers and winds and fills itself in. It feels more substantial in a time when quickness and immediacy seem all that’s recommended.


Tuesday Update

Finished the book last evening. Very satisfying read. Obviously there's a ton to learn from it if we dove in, but there's also a ton that, on the surface, seems anachronistic. How many editors do you hear clamoring for Regency-era, fantasy novels that approach 300,000 words and read like historical biographies? The lesson here: nobody knows anything in publishing. And, in the end, great stories are still king.