Sunday, March 8, 2009

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell For The Second Time.

Since I now live in Africa, I have a lot of time for reading. Since I knew I'd have a lot of time for reading before I moved here, I brought a lot of really good books I'm hoping to revisit. Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco, for example. And my good translation of The Brothers Karamazov. And a couple of Michael Chabon books (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and The Yiddish Policemen's Union, if you must know).

But the one I've been itching to get back to is the best piece of modern fiction I've read in the last decade, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. I'm halfway through, and finding it to be even better than the first time I read it. It's one of those books that benefits immensely from the reader having previous knowledge of how it will turn out, like when you go back and watch old episodes of "Lost." Susanna Clarke is dazzling in her use of foreshadowing and in the way she uses scenes way in advance to set up critical plot points.

All that to say, I know many people who started to read the book and then gave up on it. I don't blame them. It's daunting in its size (my first US edition hardcover is 782 pages), its scope (so many characters to keep track of), and its style (feels old-school Jane Austen-ish, complete with footnotes [which are critical to the story]). But with no risk, there is no reward, and I think if you're on this blog, you're the type of person who would enjoy reading a thorough, well-thought-out, enriching piece of fiction.

You can thank me later.