Reading Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, at last

clarkeWe have a print copy of Susanna Clarke’s lauded novel on our bookshelves. It’s been there for a decade. TheHusband read it soon after it came out, but I tried and failed at least a couple of times (probably more), mostly recently a year ago. My failure nagged at me; I wanted to read, enjoy, and finish it. It’s set in Regency England and is chock-full of all those characters and settings I love in Austen and Heyer. I’ve read Maria Edgeworth and Thomas Love Peacock! I’ve read detailed histories of Wellington and the Spanish Campaign. Why was this book such a slog for me?

An immediate, obvious reason is the faeries. I’m fine with magic, but I hate faeries. I know they’re important to British literary and historical culture, but I don’t understand or like them and I tend to run away from books where they play a major role.

However, this time with Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell seems to be the charm. Keishon had been talking about reading it and then took the plunge, and we converged on a readalong, just to help each other keep going. It’s been slow; I’ve been reading it for at least a month, but I’m making progress, and more importantly, I’m actually enjoying it this time. It’s still awfully twee in places, but I appreciate the less tweet parts more than I did in the past.

But. Nevertheless. I still don’t entirely get this book. I’m now more than halfway through (nearly 500 pages into an edition that clocks in at 836 pages). This afternoon I asked TheHusband if there were underlying themes and meanings in the novel that I was just missing. I think my exact words were, “Is it about anything? Besides magic and the storyline, I mean? Is the whole magic thing a metaphor for something?”

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