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When Susanna Clarke set out to write her sensational first novel, she determined to write a book about magic that would keep readers from their coveted sleep. She has certainly succeeded. A hefty doorstop of a book, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell has already drawn comparisons to works by Dickens, Austen, and the Harry Potter books. Set in early-19th-century England, Clarke's novel introduces readers to a group of magicians from whom the "magic" has departed. Enter Mr. Norrell, a misanthropic, book-hoarding magician who takes up a challenge to prove that magic still exists.
After Mr. Norrell succeeds at his ambitious endeavor, he takes on a pupil, the charismatic Jonathan Strange, and together they begin to restore the sorry state of English magic. But a rift opens between these two allies, leading them to turn their magic on each other, and a darker, more sinister magic begins to reveal itself.
Clarke's ambitious epic is packed with twists and turns, as she leads readers through mysterious doorways, down magical pathways, and into other worlds. Filled with quirky characters and eerie places, it's frightening, moving, and very often witty. In her stunningly original and accomplished first novel, Susanna Clarke has created a completely convincing "historical" account magic's role in changing the course of history -- a work chock-full of the most fun a "smart" book has ever contained. (Holiday 2004 Selection)
There may be no better marriage of talents than that of Clarke and Prebble. The former spins an enchanting, epic tale of English magic in the age of Napoleon, and the latter brings it to life-footnotes and all-with a full-bodied voice, skill and aplomb that rivals that of noted narrator Jim Dale. Set in a world where the study of theoretical magic is common, but the practice of it is unheard of, this sweeping narrative follows the exploits of England's only two practical magicians, the bookish Mr. Norrell and the affable Jonathan Strange, as they struggle to revive the country's magic in very different ways. Mr. Norrell is content to publish opaque, opinionated pieces on magic's uses and misuses, but Strange is fascinated by the legend and lore of the Raven King, the so-called father of English magic. The voices Prebble lends these two disparate characters nicely reflects their personalities-Norrell's voice is brittle and sometimes shrill, but Strange's is pleasant and ironic. As the two magicians labor together to defeat Napoleon and then separately to pursue their own ends, an elusive faerie known only as the "gentleman with the Thistledown hair" watches and schemes. Clarke's novel likely contains close to 100, if not more, characters, and Prebble juggles them all with ease. Although the heavy price of this audiobook may deter some listeners, there's no better way to experience the material than to hear it performed by such a consummate actor. Based on the Bloomsbury hardcover (Forecasts, July 12, 2004). (Nov.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
“What kind of magic can make an 800-page novel seem too short? Whatever it is, debut author Susanna Clarke is possessed by it.” USA Today on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“Ravishing...A chimera of a novel that combines the dark mythology of fantasy with the delicious social comedy of Jane Austen into a masterpiece of the genre that rivals Tolkien...What really sets Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell apart is its treatment of magic. Clarke's magic is a melancholy, macabre thing, confabulated out of snow and rain and mirrors and described with absolute realism ... Clarke has another rare faculty: she can depict evil ... [she] reaches down into fantasy's deep, dark, twisted roots, down into medieval history and the scary, Freudian fairy-tale stuff. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell reminds us that there's a reason fantasy endures: it's the language of our dreams. And our nightmares.” Time
“Clarke's imagination is prodigious, her pacing is masterly and she knows how to employ dry humor in the service of majesty.” The New York Times on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“Unquestionably the finest English novel of the fantastic written in the last seventy years. It's funny, moving, scary, otherworldly, practical and magical, a journey through light and shadow--a delight to read, both for the elegant and precise use of words, which Ms. Clarke deploys as wisely and dangerously as Wellington once deployed his troops, and for the vast sweep of the story, as tangled and twisting as old London streets or dark English woods. Closing Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrel after 800 pages, my only regret was that it wasn't twice the length.... From beginning to end, a perfect pleasure.” Neil Gaiman, author of Anansi Boys, American Gods, and the Sandman series
“Immense, intelligent, inventive…Clarke is a restrained and witty writer with an arch and eminently readable style.” Entertainment Weekly on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“Over the course of nearly 800 pages Clarke channels the world of Jane Austen, the Gothic tale, the Silver-Fork Society novel, military adventure à la Bernard Sharpe or Patrick O'Brian, romantic Byronism and Walter Scott's passion for the heroic Northern past. She orchestrates all these fictive elements consummately well...Many books are to be read, some are to be studied, and a few are meant to be lived in for weeks. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is of this last kind.” The Washington Post on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“Combining folklore and fantasy with horror-story imagination, [Clarke] creates a Napoleonic-era England alive with the promise--and danger--of uncontrollable forces…Clarke's sober style keeps the fantasy grounded, and meticulous historical research brings the magical episodes to terrifying life.” People (Critic's choice, four stars) on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“The most sparkling literary debut of the year.” Salon on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“Mesmerizing.” Harper's Bazaar on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“This 800-page work of fantasy--think Harry Potter sprinkled with the dust of Tolkien and Alasdair Gray--posits an extraordinary alternative history of England where magic, fairies, spirits and enchantments were once part of everyday life...This incredible work of the imagination, which took Clarke more than 10 years to write, ends all too soon.” New York Post (four stars) on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“Here is a writer who remembers that true fairy tales carry a sting and the creatures themselves were never properly domesticated to the nursery. Her uncanny book is an object lesson in the pleasures--and risks--of enchantment.” Village Voice on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“Gorgeous…A terrific, phenomenally ambitious book.” The Onion on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“An instant classic, one of the finest fantasies ever written.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review) on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“Extraordinary…Will enchant readers of fantasy and of literary fiction alike.” Publishers Weekly (starred review) on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“A smashing success…History and fantasy form a beautiful partnership in this detailed, authentic, and heartfelt novel.” Booklist (starred review) on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“Wonderful. At almost 800 pages, it is an immense, densely plotted story, peopled with a a vast cast of extremely well-drawn characters, filled with unexpected events, ancient prophesies,varied and exotic settings, and all manner of human and inhuman conflict, and it is built one splendid scene upon the next.” Toronto Globe and Mail on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell comes across as equal parts Jane Austen and Charles Dickens flavored with Rowling and Tolkien. It's inarguably one of the year's best and most original works.” National Post (Canada)
“Combines the wit of Jane Austen with the subterranean spookiness of the works of Arthur Conan Doyle.” Seattle Times on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“An enthralling, unique read.” Baltimore Sun
“Witty dialogue, cunning observations, and intriguing footnotes…[A] sweeping adventure full of telling details, mixing history and fantasy to create worlds of deep imagination that seem as real as our own.” San Francisco Chronicle on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“While Jonathan Strange is every bit as whimsical and playful as the Harry Potter books, it is also grave and upsetting, the very opposite of comforting children's entertainment…Clarke has delivered a book of universal truths and unexpectedly heartbreaking acuity.” Fort Worth Star-Telegram
“Utterly enchanting. [Clarke's] union of historical fiction and fantasy is fresh, it is surprising, and it will appeal to those who want nothing more than to be carried away to a world crafted by a superb storyteller.” Denver Post on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
“Extraordinary...If Harry Potter is the kind of book that makes you want to be a kid again, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is the kind of novel that will remind you that being an adult should be a whole lot more fun.” Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“I found it absolutely compelling. The narrative drive is irresistible and I could not stop reading until I had finished it. The narrator's tone is beautifully judged. It's full of wonderfully deadpan humour and its reticence leaves the reader to make up his or her mind about the characters. I loved all the invented scholarship and was fascinated by the mixture of historical realism and utterly fantastic events. I almost began to believe that there really was a tradition of ‘English magic' that I had not heard about. The author captures the period and its literary conventions with complete conviction. And a large part of the fun is seeing how an early nineteenth century novel copes with the impact of magic. It's an astonishing achievement. I can't think of anything that is remotely like it.” Charles Palliser, author of The Quincunx, on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Read an Excerpt
(takes place in Venice, after Strange and
Norrell have parted ways. Drawlight, a servant of Mr Norrell’s has come with
foul intentions, either to abduct or murder Strange. But Strange, obsessed with
the Raven King, has other plans…)
“I will show you,” said Strange, “and then you will understand. If you
perform these three tasks, I shall take no revenge on you. I shall not harm you.
Deliver these three messages and you may return to your night-hunts, to your
devouring of men and women.”
“Thank you! Thank you!” breathed Drawlight, gratefully, until a horrible
realisation gripped him. “Three! But, sir, you only gave me
“Three messages,” said Strange, wearily. “You must deliver three
“Yes, but you have not told me what the third is!”
Strange made no reply. He turned away, muttering to
In spite of all his terror, Drawlight had a great desire to get hold of
the magician and shake him. He might have done it too, if he thought it would do
any good. Tears of self-pity began to trickle down his face. Now Strange would
kill him for not performing the third task and it was not his
“Bring me a drink of water!” said Strange, suddenly
Drawlight looked around. In the middle of the Venetian square there was a
well. He went over to it and found a horrible old iron cup attached to the
stones by a length of rusting chain. He pushed aside the well-cover, drew up a
pail of water and dipped the cup into the water. He hated touching it.
Curiously, after everything that had happened to him that day it was the iron
cup he hated the most. All of his life he had loved beautiful things, but now
everything that surrounded him was horrible. It was the magicians’ fault. How he
“Sir? Lord magician?” he called out. “You
will have to come here to drink.” He showed the iron chain by way of an
Strange came forward, but he did not take the proffered cup. Instead he
took a tiny phial out of his pocket and handed it to Drawlight. “Put six drops
in the water,” he said.
Drawlight took out the stopper. His hand was trembling so much that he
feared he would pour the whole thing on the ground. Strange did not appear to
notice; Drawlight shook in some drops.
Strange took the cup and drank the water down. The cup fell from his
hand. Drawlight was aware—he did not know how exactly—that Strange was changed.
Against the starry sky the black shape of his figure sagged and his head
drooped. Drawlight wondered if he were drunk. But how could a few drops of any
thing make a man drunk? Besides he did not smell of strong liquor; he smelt like
a man who had not washed himself or his linen for some weeks; and there was
another smell too—one that had not been there a minute ago—a smell like old age
and half a hundred cats.
Drawlight had the strangest feeling. It was something he had felt before
when magic was about to happen. Invisible doors seemed to be opening all around
him; winds blew on him from far away, bringing scents of woods, moors and bogs.
Images flew unbidden into his mind. The houses around him were no longer empty.
He could see inside them as if the walls had been removed. Each dark room
contained -- not a person exactly -- a Being, an Ancient Spirit. One contained a
Fire; another a Stone; yet another a Shower of Rain; yet another a Flock of
Birds; yet another a Hillside; yet another a Small Creature with Dark and Fiery
Thoughts; and on and on.
“What are they?” he whispered, in amazement. He realised that all the
hairs on his head were standing on end as if he had been electrified. Then a
new, different sensation took him: it was a sensation not unlike falling, and
yet he remained standing. It was as if his mind had fallen
He thought he stood upon an English
hillside. Rain was falling; it twisted in the air like grey ghosts. Rain fell
upon him and he grew thin as rain. Rain washed away thought, washed away memory,
all the good and the bad. He no longer knew his name. Everything was washed away
like mud from a stone. Rain filled him up with thoughts and memories of its own.
Silver lines of water covered the hillside, like intricate lace, like the veins
of an arm. Forgetting that he was, or ever had been, a man, he became the lines
of water. He fell into the earth with the rain.
He thought he lay beneath the earth,
beneath England. Long ages passed; cold and rain seeped through him; stones
shifted within him. In the Silence and the Dark he grew vast. He became the
earth; he became England. A star looked down on him and spoke to him. A stone
asked him a question and he answered it in its own language. A river curled at
his side; hills budded beneath his fingers. He opened his mouth and breathed out
He thought he was pressed into a thicket
in a dark wood in winter. The trees went on forever, dark pillars separated by
thin, white slices of winter light. He looked down. Young saplings pierced him
through and through; they grew up through his body, through his feet and hands.
His eyelids would no longer close because twigs had grown up through them.
Insects scuttled in and out of his ears; spiders built nests and webs in his
mouth. He realised he had been entwined in the wood for years and years. He knew
the wood and the wood knew him. There was no saying any longer what was wood and
what was man.
All was silent. Snow fell. He screamed...
Like rising up from beneath dark waters, Drawlight came to himself. Who
it was that released him—whether Strange, or the Wood, or England itself—he did
not know, but he felt its contempt as it cast him back into his own mind. The
Ancient Spirits withdrew from him. His thoughts and sensations shrank to those
of a Man. He was dizzy and reeling from the memory of what he had endured. He
examined his hands and rubbed the places on his body where the trees had pierced
him. They seemed whole enough; oh, but they hurt! He whimpered and looked around
The magician was a little way off, crouching by a wall, muttering magic
to himself. He struck the wall once; the stones bulged, changed shape, became a
raven; the raven opened its wings and, with a loud caw, flew up towards the
night sky. He struck the wall again: another raven emerged from the wall and
flew away. Then another and another, and on and on, thick and fast they came
until all the stars above were blotted out by black wings.
Strange raised his hand to strike
“Lord magician,” gasped Drawlight. “You have not told me what the third
Strange looked round. Without warning he seized Drawlight’s coat and
pulled him close. Drawlight could feel Strange’s stinking breath on his face and
for the first time he could see his face. Starlight shone on fierce, wild eyes,
from which all humanity and reason had fled.
“Tell Norrell I am coming!” hissed Strange. “Now,
Drawlight did not need to be told twice. He sped away through the
darkness. Ravens seemed to pursue him. He could not see them, but he heard the
beating of their wings and felt the currents in the air that those wings
created. Halfway across a bridge he tumbled without warning into dazzling light.
Instantly he was surrounded by the sound of birdsong and of people talking. Men
and women were walking and talking and going about their everyday pursuits. Here
was no terrible magic—only the everyday world—the wonderful, beautiful everyday
Drawlight’s clothes were still drenched
in seawater and the weather was cruelly cold. He was in a part of the city he
did not recognize. No one offered to help him and for a long time he walked
about, lost and exhausted. Eventually he happened upon a square he knew and was
able to make his way back to the little tavern where he rented a room. By the
time he reached it, he was weak and shivering. He undressed and rinsed the salt
from his body as best he could. Then he lay down on his little
For the next two days he lay in a fever. His dreams were unspeakable
things, filled with Darkness, Magic and the Long, Cold Ages of the Earth. And
all the time he slept he was filled with dread lest he wake to find himself
under the earth or crucified by a winter wood.
By the middle of the third day he was recovered enough to get up and go
to the harbor. There he found an English ship bound for Portsmouth. He showed
the captain the letters and papers Lascelles had given him, promising a large
fee to the ship that bore him back to England and signed by two of the most
famous bankers in Europe.
By the fifth day he was on a ship bound for