I finally finished that tome of a novel called, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
, by Susanna Clarke. I must say, given all the hype surrounding this book, from both professional reviewers and friends of mine alike, I was a tad bit disappointed in the book. In short, it meandered. Throughout there was only the faintest hint of a plot and many of the characters lacked, I thought, motivation. Certain sections of the story were charming and very enjoyable to read, and Susanna Clarke's use of diction and syntax is to be commended. Often I found myself re-reading particularly well constructed sentences or turns of phrase. The world she created had a tremendous amount of potential that I felt was largely untapped. The last 150-200 pages were, however, quite good and very engaging, but I don't know if the first 600-650 pages are worth the payoff? It seems to me, that this book could have benefitted greatly from some serious editing. Were I the editor (and I don't claim any particular expertise here other than as a voracious consumer of novels), I would have read the manuscript and written back, "The first 600-650 pages of your story are by and large a fabulous backstory. Remove them, and continue the novel from where it originally left off." Now, of course, there are important pieces of exposition in those first 600 pages, which would need to be retained. But most of it could serve as backstory (with the addition of more defined character motivation) for what could then have the potential of becoming a truly great first novel. There were too many loose ends at the conclusion of the pages with ink on them, and of the ones which were tied up, they were tied up a little sloppily (i.e. the demise of the gentleman with thistle down hair). I should like to have seen more done with the characters of Stephen Black, Lady Pole, and Arabella Strange because I think they would have made wonderfully fascinating characters had they any dimension to them at all! But, as it was written, they were simply formulaic characters fulfilling a literary role, and I thought that was a little boring.
In conclusion: Ms. Clarke, great first effort at crafting a novel! But it was just that, a first effort, not a satisfactory product. Try and try again, because I believe you've got it in you to write a much better story. I see it in this one, the shine of potential, but unfortunately that shine was dulled by a meandering style and two dimensional characters.
i've only heard a little about this book and your review certainly does not inspire me to read it.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
i love this book. i think i understand your objections, but the digressions and slow-building plot are part of the genius of the thing for me.