Wednesday, July 14, 2010

As everybody knows, no one with red hair can ever truly be said to be handsome.

I just finished Volume I: Mr Norrell of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norell and I had to use that quote in my title.  As soon as I read it I started laughing and decided I should get a greeting card to send to my brother with this message. I'm a good sister like that.  The Red in my blog name is indeed in reference to my hair color and mean comments about red heads usually make me laugh, especially the Ginger Kids South Park episode. Maybe the comment would be less funny if I was boy as I've decided girls are mostly immune to red-headed insults.  But the book is about much more than the lack of handsome red heads!

The longer I read this book the more I like it.  At this point the only complaint I have is the size of the book.  I mentioned in an earlier post that this book is quickly pushing me over to the e-reader side of that whole argument because of the weight of it.  I feel like a wimp complaining about it but after balancing it in one hand each day to read it I find myself contemplating very tiny books as my next reads. 

--I want to warn readers that following contains spoilers so if you don't want plot points ruined for you, stop now.--

The first volume primarily concerns the titular Mr. Norrell, the last practical magician in England and he very much enjoys his position as the last and importantly the only practicing magician.  He despises the theoretical magicians who study the history of magic yet he other characters are hard-pressed to get Mr Norrell to actually perform any sort of magic.  He performs the first act of magic England has seen in decades, but will only do it if the theoretical magicians agree to take up a new profession if he succeeds.  He only brings Miss Wintertowne back from the dead to win favor with her betrothed and doing so sacrifices half of her life to the faeries.  He refuses to share  any of his magical knowledge except for magical history, as he feels the current literature is all wrong and he drives all of the false magicians out of London.  But he's not an evil character and the fact that he can have such negative qualities and yet not be vilified makes him interesting.  If anything he reminds me of the gentlemen scientists that Bill Bryson mentions in A Short History of Nearly Everything.  He believes that no one but himself is capable of appreciating magic and that everyone else, past and present, has magic all wrong yet he continuously makes excuses for why he can't publish anything or why he can't perform magic and excuse after excuse.  So much of the story so far has been about people trying to convince Mr Norrell to do, well, anything other than sit in his study and read. 

--You can read again! The rest is spoiler free.  I know you're excited.--

I'm looking forward to finally meeting Jonathan Strange.  He's been mentioned in passing in the footnotes throughout Volume I and there's a little of his history mentioned but for the most part he's a mystery man.  But, since the next volume is called Jonathan Strange I assume we'll be hearing from him.  And the blurb on the back of the book describes Strange as "young, handsome and daring...the very antithesis of Norrell" so I'm interested to see a more lively character.

Title quote from page 243
Image from page 107

Clarke, Susanna.  Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.  Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, London.  2004.


  1. Ooh, I've read this book maybe a year ago? I really liked it, it was almost comforting in an old English way...
    Anyway, the second part was awesome! Whereas sometimes in the first I would get a little frustrated at the pace (as rarely as it happened), I was racing towards the end during the second half.
    Looking forward to your thoughts on the entire book!

  2. Ugh, reading this is making me want to pick up Strange again ...

    Yes, you are about to enter the part of the novel when things really get exciting. I promise you, all that hard work getting through volume 1. I'm actually excited for you.

    As to the size, I actually loved reading such a large book. I felt like the kid in Neverending Story, hunkering down with an ancient tome of adventure :)

  3. thefriande - I'm excited to start the next section! While it was slow Norrell amused me in his dullness (which seems like it shouldn't happen but there you go) but I'm looking forward to someone more lively coming to the forefront. And I was happy to see Segundus and Honeyfoot return, even if it's just briefly. Hopefully I'll see some more of them!

    Tyrie - Between your comment and thefriande's I'm getting excited to continue on! I may have a few entries about books other than Strange & Norrell but only to break up the posts. And to give my arms a rest. I don't mind the size of the book, except when it's weighing down my bag.

  4. Great review. I always think of South Park when I read about gingerse.


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