Jonathan Strange &
is an excellent first novel by Susanna Clarke. The book is set in 1806 in an
England little different from ours apart from a period of magic having come
and gone. In the time of Henry I, a Faerie King invaded the north of England
and ruled for several centuries. By 1806, this is a distant memory, apart
from a number of societies of theoretical magic. Practical magicians have
not existed for centuries until a reclusive Mr Norrell appears. He becomes
an object of popularity and interest having raised a beautiful lady from the
dead, and summoned and armada of ghostly ships to confuse the French. A
youthful apprentice called Jonathan Strange appears, who Mr Norrell
reluctantly takes on. Jonathan Strange is young, handsome and brilliant –
everything Mr Norrell is not! Their secret dablings in the dark arts cause
more troubles than could possibly be imagined.
This is a most
unusual book. It is written in the style of an early nineteenth century
book, complete with supporting footnotes. The subtle change in history makes
the magical less fantastic and more mundane, and more accepted by the
public. The end result is an almost plausible description of two magicians
vying to outdo each other in the time of the Napoleonic Wars.
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell has received critical acclaim form both
sides of the ‘fence’. Not only was it short-listed for both the Whitbread
First Novel Award, and the Guardian First Book Award, but also by the
science fiction community where it received the 2005
Fantasy Award for Adult Literature.