Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: A Novel


English magicians were once the wonder of the known world, with fairy servants at their beck and call; they could command winds, mountains, and woods. But by the early 1800s they have long since lost the ability to perform magic. They can only write long, dull papers about it, while fairy servants are nothing but a fading memory.

But at Hurtfew Abbey in Yorkshire, the rich, reclusive Mr Norrell has assembled a wonderful library of lost and forgotten books from England's magical ...

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English magicians were once the wonder of the known world, with fairy servants at their beck and call; they could command winds, mountains, and woods. But by the early 1800s they have long since lost the ability to perform magic. They can only write long, dull papers about it, while fairy servants are nothing but a fading memory.

But at Hurtfew Abbey in Yorkshire, the rich, reclusive Mr Norrell has assembled a wonderful library of lost and forgotten books from England's magical past and regained some of the powers of England's magicians. He goes to London and raises a beautiful young woman from the dead. Soon he is lending his help to the government in the war against Napoleon Bonaparte, creating ghostly fleets of rain-ships to confuse and alarm the French.

All goes well until a rival magician appears. Jonathan Strange is handsome, charming, and talkative-the very opposite of Mr Norrell. Strange thinks nothing of enduring the rigors of campaigning with Wellington's army and doing magic on battlefields. Astonished to find another practicing magician, Mr Norrell accepts Strange as a pupil. But it soon becomes clear that their ideas of what English magic ought to be are very different. For Mr Norrell, their power is something to be cautiously controlled, while Jonathan Strange will always be attracted to the wildest, most perilous forms of magic. He becomes fascinated by the ancient, shadowy figure of the Raven King, a child taken by fairies who became king of both England and Faerie, and the most legendary magician of all. Eventually Strange's heedless pursuit of long-forgotten magic threatens to destroy not only his partnership with Norrell, but everything that he holds dear.

Sophisticated, witty, and ingeniously convincing, Susanna Clarke's magisterial novel weaves magic into a flawlessly detailed vision of historical England. She has created a world so thoroughly enchanting that eight hundred pages leave readers longing for more.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
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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)

The New Yorker
This vast début fantasy novel, cast somewhat in the Harry Potter mold, is set in early-nineteenth-century England, where two men, Gilbert Norrell and his pupil Jonathan Strange, revive the once-thriving practice of the dark arts. After aiding the British against Napoleon, the magicians fall out over interpretations of wizardly philosophy. Meanwhile, a malevolent fairy accidentally set loose by Norrell enchants, among others, Strange’s wife. Clarke’s ability to construct a fully imagined world—much of it explained in long, witty footnotes—is impressive, and there are some suspenseful moments. But her attempt to graft a fantasy narrative onto such historical realities as the Battle of Waterloo is more often awkward than clever, and the period dialogue is simply twee. Worse, the tension between the forces of good and evil—crucial in any magical tale—is surprisingly slack; the arch-villain is a cartoonish fop whose petulant misdeeds lack menace.
Gregory Maguire
A reader more distractible than I am might yawn for 300 pages running and still discover several book-length stretches to enjoy. I never yawned. 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
Michael Dirda
So Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell may or may not be the finest English fantasy of the past 70 years. But it is still magnificent and original, and that should be enough for any of us. Right now all we really need to do is open to chapter one and start reading, with mounting excitement: "Some years ago there was in the city of York a society of magicians. . . ."
— The Washington Post
Edward Nawotka
It takes 100 pages for Clarke to establish her milieu, but most readers, once enchanted, will remain under her spell until the very last page.
— USA Today
Publishers Weekly
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.
"Ravishing. A chimera of a novel that combines the dark mythology of fantasy with the delicious social comedy of Jane Austen."
Entertainment Weekly
"Immense, intelligent, inventive. Clarke is a restrained and witty writer with an arch and eminently readable style."
Washington Post
"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...Magnificent and original."
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
USA Today
"What kind of magic can make an 800-page novel seem too short? Whatever it is, [Clarke] is possessed by it."
The New York Times
"Clarke's imagination is prodigious, her pacing is masterly and she knows how to employ dry humor in the service of majesty."
"Clarke's sober style keeps the fantasy grounded, and meticulous historical research brings the magical episodes to terrifying life."
Toronto Globe and Mail
"Wonderful....built one splendid scene upon the next."
"A smashing success. History and fantasy form a beautiful partnership in this detailed, authentic, and heartfelt novel."
San Francisco Chronicle
"Witty dialogue, cunning observations, and intriguing footnotes....create worlds of deep imagination that seem as real as our own."
Village Voice
"Her uncanny book is an object lesson in the pleasures-and risks-of enchantment."
Denver Post
"Utterly enchanting. [Clarke's] union of historical fiction and fantasy is fresh, it is surprising....a superb storyteller."
New York Times Book Review
"Clarke welcomes herself into an exalted company of British writers-not only, some might argue, Dickens and Austen, but also the fantasy legends Kenneth Grahame and George MacDonald-as well as contemporary writers like Susan Cooper and Philip Pullman."
Seattle Times
"Combines the wit of Jane Austen with the subterranean spookiness of the works of Arthur Conan Doyle."
Baltimore Sun
"An enthralling, unique read."
New York Post
"This incredible work of the imagination, which took Clarke more than 10 years to write, ends all too soon."
"The most sparkling literary debut of the year."
Christian Science Monitor
"Thoroughly enchanting.In a fantastically paced conclusion, the ominous horror of what's preying on England comes into focus, even as the setting shifts into the cloudy world of enchantment that Clarke captures with such haunting effect."
Harper's Bazaar
The Onion
"Gorgeous. A terrific, phenomenally ambitious book."
"The most sparkling literary debut of the year. Susanna Clarke's magic is universal."
Neil Gaiman
"Unquestionably the finest English novel of the fantastic written in the last seventy years....From beginning to end, a perfect pleasure."
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
"Clarke has delivered a book of universal truths and unexpectedly heartbreaking acuity."
National Post (Canada)
"Inarguably one of the year's best and most original works."
Charles Palliser
"I found it absolutely compelling....It's an astonishing achievement. I can't think of anything that is remotely like it."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781427267207
  • Publisher: Macmillan Audio
  • Publication date: 4/14/2015
  • Format: CD

Meet the Author

Susanna Clarke

Susanna Clarke was born in Nottingham, England, in 1959, the eldest daughter of a Methodist minister. She was educated at St Hilda's College, Oxford, and has worked in various areas of nonfiction publishing. She has published a number of short stories and novellas in American anthologies, as well as her own most recent collection of short stories entitled "The Ladies of Grace Adieu, and Other Stories."


Susanna Clarke admits that her first novel took her more than 10 years to write -- "a crazy amount of time to spend on anything -- except building a cathedral, growing a garden or educating a child," she has said.

To be fair, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell was obviously not a small undertaking, both literally and figuratively. For one thing, the book clocks in at 800 pages. For another, Clarke spent a good bit of time researching the history for her early nineteenth-century London tale about two magicians.

As a fantasy novel filled with historical detail and copious "footnotes" that further embellish her richly imagined world, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell had more riding on it than the average first novel. Clarke is being positioned as a writer who, like Neil Gaiman before her, brings a literary heft (not just in pages) and potential crossover appeal to a previously neglected genre.

The story is set centuries after the Raven King -- a human brought up by fairies who ruled the country with magic -- has passed into legend. Mr Norrell studies ancient lore and eventually gains fame as the only real sorcerer in the early 1800s England. When he encounters a young, dashing magician peer named Jonathan Strange and takes him on as a pupil, their styles clash and a rivalry develops.

"[The marketing push for Clarke's novel] is not so unusual for a big first novel," a New York Times writer observed. "But it is curious for a big first novel about dueling magicians that is uncompromisingly literary without being shy about taking the genre seriously."

Hmm... a thick book about magicians by an English author with "crossover hit" written all over it? The Harry Potter comparisons have already begun. Clarke's reaction? "I don't think there could ever be an adult Harry Potter," she says in a publisher's interview. "I think it's harder for adults to be enchanted -- it's hard for them to switch off their critical faculties and just be swept along by the story."

Clarke makes this enchantment possible by rooting her story in a very firm historical foundation, seamlessly drawing in the politics and culture of nineteenth-century London. She can be by turns witty and spellbinding, capable of creating breathtaking momentum in a scene. Clarke has a particular gift for making intangible, vague atmospheres quite sensate and vivid. The result is feeling as if you've wandered into a dark, mysterious castle that you can't bring yourself to leave.

One way Clarke eases suspension of the reader's disbelief is by adding not only historical detail but "magical" detail to make it seem more earth-bound. Rather than make magic something purely supernatural, she injects it with some amusing, workmanlike mundanity. When Strange is told his destiny to become a magician, he reacts, "I hope to be married soon and a life spent in dark woods surrounded by thieves and murderers would be inconvenient to say the least."

Clarke has said that her next book will be set in the same world has her first one -- and this time she hasn't got 10 years to spend on it. Fans shouldn't have to wait long to revisit Strange and Norrell's alluring world, and meet new characters.

Good To Know

Some interesting outtakes from our interview with Clarke:

"I met my partner, Colin Greenland, through my writing. He was co-tutor on a week's writing course that I went on in 1993. Colin and the other tutor asked all the students to write a short story before the course. I didn't want to write a short story -- I wanted to discuss my novel, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. So I wrote a short story about them. So that was the first thing Colin knew about me -- that short story. Then I went on the course and met him, and now we've been together 10+ years.

"People who've only seen black and white photos of me, think my hair might be blond. It's not -- it's very grey. I'm not sure what people have against grey. It's the colour of stones and moonlight. Rather cool, I think."

"I've seen every episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Huge fan."

"I like hiking through Northern hills and valleys. I like white wine, British beer from microbreweries, other people's gardens (because I don't attend to my own), other people's dogs and cats and pigs (because I have none of my own), and other people's houses (always more interesting than my own). My favourite nail polish for toes is called India by Chanel (a pretty, slightly sparkly pink), my favourite character in Law and Order is Jack McCoy, and my favourite pizza is pepperoni and jalapeno chilis."

"I don't like broccoli or Bob Dylan or D. H. Lawrence or TV programmes about celebrities."

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    1. Hometown:
      Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 16, 1959
    2. Place of Birth:
      Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, England
    1. Education:
      B.A. in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, 1981
    2. Website:

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 two!”

            “Three messages,” said Strange, wearily. “You must deliver three messages.”

            “Yes, but you have not told me what the third is!”

            Strange made no reply. He turned away, muttering to himself.

            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 fault.

            “Bring me a drink of water!” said Strange, suddenly returning.

            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 hated them!

“Sir? Lord magician?” he called out. “You will have to come here to drink.” He showed the iron chain by way of an explanation.

            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 down…

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 Spring...


*  *  *


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 for Strange.

            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 again...

            “Lord magician,” gasped Drawlight. “You have not told me what the third message is.”

            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, go!”

            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 world.

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 bed.

            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 England.

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