Tired of your workaday lives,
Need to get away for a while?
Come, sit a spell
Let Susanna tell you a story.
We go to England in the 1800’s, a time of the Napoleonic Wars, a time when most people believe magic to be dead in England. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell are two magicians attempting, each in their own way, to change that and restore magic to England.
I can admit that it took me a while to find my legs here, acquire my own rhythm with the writing and the story. In many ways this reads like a history lesson... The entire aspect and nature of magic and its history are all carefully and explicitly laid out, fully annotated with historical references that appear as footnotes (which while bitter at first, soon became delicious little bits that nourished and enriched). I came to crave them. Lord Byron and the Duke of Wellington, both, put in an appearance here, casually lending their historical pertinence, as England’s Prime Minister and his cabinet employ the magicians to assist in the battle against Napoleon.
Susanna so deftly describes the two main protagonists, the magicians, so intricately, as to impart an intimate understanding of each of them. As opposite in character as they are in appearance Strange & Norrell command this stage, but along the way they share the spotlight, with a whole cast of others, people, that step right off the page:The man extracted himself from the hedge. This was no easy task because various parts of it – hawthorn twigs, elder branches, strands of ivy, mistletoe and witches broom – had insinuated themselves among his clothes, limbs and hair during the night or glued themselves to him with ice. He sat up. He did not seem in the least surprised to find he had an audience; one would almost have supposed from his behaviour that he had been expecting it. He looked at them all and gave several disparaging sniffs and snorts.
He ran his fingers through his hair, removing dead leaves, bits of twig and half a dozen earwigs. “I reached out my hand” he muttered, to no-one in particular. “England’s rivers turned and flowed the other way.” He loosened his neckcloth and fished out some spiders which had taken up residence inside his shirt. In doing so, he revealed that his neck and throat were ornamented with an odd pattern of blue lines, dots, crosses and circles. Then he wrapped his neckcloth back about his neck and, having thus completed his toilet to his satisfaction, he rose to his feet.
“My name is Vinculus”, he declared.
What I loved most, as I listened to Susanna’s story was that it took me away, where a slow and curious sort of calm came over me. A kind of a hush, seemingly impenetrable, descended about me. A strange sense of quiet fell, like one might find in the wee hours of the morning. I relaxed, shook off the shackles of day to day and settled in, wholly immersed now and in no particular hurry, on this long, long journey. I stretched out my legs, met the man with the thistle-down hair and considered the colour of a heartache. I visited ballrooms and battlefields, travelled faerie roads, and searched for the Raven King. I watched the birds as they came to my feeder and fell away, to lost-hope house and all the mirrors of the world, utterly enchanted, and I believed.It was as if a door had opened somewhere. Or possibly a series of doors. There was a sensation as of a breeze blowing into the house and bringing with it the half- remembered scents of childhood. There was a shift in the light which seemed to cause all the shadows in the room to fall differently. There was nothing more definite than that, and yet, as often happens when some magic is occurring, both Drawlight and the lady had the strongest impression that nothing in the visible world could be relied upon any more. It was as if one might put out one’s hand to touch any thing in the room and discover it was no longer there.
A tall mirror hung upon the wall above the sopha where the lady sat. It shewed a second great white moon in a second tall dark window and a second dim-mirror room. But Drawlight and the lady did not appear in the mirror room at all. Instead there was a kind of an indistinctness, which became a sort of shadow, which became the dark shape of someone coming towards them. From the path which this person took, it could clearly be seen that the mirror room was not like the original at all and that it was only by odd tricks of lighting and perspective – such as one might meet with in the theatre- that they appeared to be the same. It seemed that the mirror room was actually a long corridor.
The hair and coat of the mysterious figure were stirred by a wind which could not be felt in their own room and though he walked briskly towards the glass which separated the two rooms, it was taking him some time to reach it. But finally he reached the glass and then there was a moment when his dark shape loomed very large behind it and his face was still in shadow.
Susanna Clarke tells a story that spills over with wonder.
This one is coming to the island with me.