The Spur

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell: a magical reading experience


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Set in Napoleonic-era England during the early 19th century, Susanna Clarke has created Harry Potter for adults.

The story begins when Mr. Norell, a scholar and proven magician, shows that he is more than willing to lend his talents to the war effort. However, he doesn’t want anyone else to study magic. Originally, magicians had been thought long extinct in England, so Mr. Norrell’s abilities give him a unique position of power and authority.

Along comes Jonathan Strange, from an unhappy childhood and estrangement from his father. Learning that he could do magic offered little excitement at first; instead a change of pace, the possibility of money and a way to entertain himself. Eventually, the two meet and enter a fluctuating relationship centered around the “right” way to practice magic.

This story is everything that Harry Potter is not. The setting is among the real government of England and entails the carefully maneuvering of political, societal and economical environments. To top it all off, there is an evil elf lord bent on enslaving virtually everyone to incessant partying. The concerns of the people within the story are historically accurate, the settings are geographically factual and the mannerisms of etiquette and social conduct are styled according to each community—no detail has been overlooked. Perhaps why it took Clarke ten years to finish.

Though long, originally published at 782 pages, nowhere within the story is there a lull in importance of scenes or tedium of information. Everything, from the smallest to the largest detail, has a very real place in building the story. Adapted into a miniseries in 2015, “Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell” creates an understanding of English society during the Napoleonic Wars and the strength of its patriotism. It brings to light the pitfalls of political power and money, reveals the difficulties adults have in making decisions that impact a number of people and admits the corruption that can be found in even the most sincere organizations. Easy to read and able to turn the pages with speed,  “Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell” is fully entitled to five out of five stars.

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Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell: a magical reading experience