It’s a bit like hearing voices. Except there are no voices.
You walk beside a shelf and something catches your eye. Maybe it’s the title, or the colour, or something else entirely.
‘Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell’ did just that, with its cardinal red cover and very large spine (seriously, it must be 3″ large).
I was working at the Amnesty Bookshop that day and I picked it up for no other reason that I found it in front of me. I read the first paragraph and I had to make an effort not to sit down and read the entire book.
I actually got my own personal copy a few weeks later, while in Hay for the Literature Festival (along with ‘Brave New World’ and a children’s book about sloths).
Beginning such a heavy book (really, heavy. I don’t know what kind of paper they used, but it must have been leaden) was a trifle daunting, even more because I had a flight scheduled in a few days and I had to consider cabin allowances, but that soon stopped being an issue.
Susanna Clarke’s words simply pulled me into the story and held me in a IX century England that I hardly wanted to leave.
It all starts with the Friends of Magic, a society of Theoretical Magicians in York. Mr Norrell is not part of them. He is a “quite decent” Practical Magician and very soon gets his way to dismantle the York society.
Mr Norrell is the conceited kind of man who knows what is best for English Magic and, together with the faithful Childermass, sets foot towards London, to put his practice to the service of the Kingdom during the struggle in the Napoleonic Wars.
Meanwhile, another magician rises in England, a self-taught and very talented Jonathan Strange.
A prophecy from the Raven King, ancient Magician King of the North, brings them together and slowly the future begins to unfold.
I would say charming, if I wasn’t worried about cheap word-play. Certainly this was one of the best book I have read this year. Maybe because I wish such magic really could exist in these times?