Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, part 1

By Susanna Clarke

Book Cover: Strand & NorrellAlright, I’m going to try to use the new BBC miniseries as a motivator to get through this book. I’ve tried a couple of times already, and never got past the first chapter. I was particularly excited about the miniseries, since I figured I’d just watch it and never read the book. But now it is leaving me with questions that I figured the book would probably answer. As an added motivator, I’m going to attempt to semi-live blog my progress, but even though this damn book is nearly as long as Atlas Shrugged, I’m going to stick to the seven-part schedule dictated by the mini-series, so hopefully not bog us all down too badly.

Also, I’m having to play catch-up a bit, since we are already in the second week. So here’s Episode 1/Chapters 1-9 with the caution that this is a recap, not a review, so spoilers everywhere:

I watch a fair amount of British television, and in the past I’ve found that while it always takes me a few minutes to acclimate to the accents, I don’t have any trouble after that. I’m not finding that here — I can barely understand a thing anyone says throughout the entire episode, which is part of the inspiration to go ahead and read the book. However…

There are so many words in this book. Like, so many words. Oh, and there’s footnotes, too. Footnotes! In a novel! I had thought Rebecca would like it since she likes a lot of words, but she only got a bit further than I did.

Anyway, a bunch of ridiculous stuff happens with magicians — a society of magicians challenges the reclusive Mr. Norrell to prove his magical abilities, he does this by animating all the statues in a cathedral, and then he moves to London to aid in the war against Napoleon. When no one in government takes him seriously, he gets the attention of one of the ministers by resurrecting the minister’s recently deceased fiancé, with the aid of a fairy, who demands half her life in payment.

I just used fewer words than Clarke used pages, by the way. (I left out such important passages like the landlady of one of the society magicians telling him how renowned her bread is.)

The miniseries cuts things like that, too, which is why I enjoy it so much more. Other than those necessary exclusions, the book and show are pretty close, actually, with the minor exception that Jonathan Strange doesn’t actually appear in Chapters 1-9 at all, though he is referred to obliquely. However, the two shallow society “friends”/hangers-on that Norrell attracts in London are by far the most delightful characters in both the book and TV show.

Additionally, I am already vindicated on two points:

  • There are two characters called Jonathan Strange (of course) and Jonathan Segundus, and I could not tell them apart in the show. I insisted that they were the same character up until there was a scene with them both in it. In the book, a prophesizing street magician is also confused over the two, so there.
  • Also, the book is full of random Latin and the stupidest names, so I feel that definitely contributes to me failing to understand what anyone is talking about in the show. Seriously, the names are all so bad that I fall out of my suspension of disbelief with each new introduction: Honeyfoot, Foxcastle, Childermass, Drawlight, etc. etc.

—Anna

One comment on “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, part 1

  1. Kinsey says:

    As I told you already, I clearly have some sort of face blindness when it comes to all the white dudes on show. It took me two solid episodes to even figure out which one is Jonathan Strange, and when there was a scene where Mr. Norrell did not have his wig on, I spent half of it thinking it was a new character.

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