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Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell Chapters 1-4

October 10, 2014


Recap: I am reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell for the first time along with Kate Nepveu’s re-read over on  I’ll be keeping up with her reading schedule, which can be found here, and posting my thoughts on Friday just as she does. I may do a quick reaction/discussion on Saturday along with my regular blog post.

I’m not going to do a line by line read the way I did with The Hunger Games. I don’t feel like that would be particularly interesting to my readers. (Feel free to disagree with me and I’ll take that into consideration.)
If Mary Robinette Kowal is channeling Jane Austen into her Regency fantasy novels, I feel like Susanna Clarke is tapping into Charles Dickens. Although, JS&MN is very much set in the Regency, complete with rumblings about France in the background, it does not yet feel very Regency. Which, probably comes about because the majority of my experience with Regency novels comes from Jane Austen.
I am much more acquainted with the ladies’ view of things than then gentleman scholars’.
As of the end of Chapter 4, Jonathan Strange has not yet come onto the scene. Mr. Norrell has, however, and he is not a prepossessing figure. He is, nominally, England’s only practical magician, but he seems to take a malicious delight in forcing the York Society of magicians to disband.
Chapter 4 provides a slightly more sympathetic interlude as Mr. Norrell finds himself adrift in the sea of the London social scene. I do not know if his discomfort at Mrs. Godesdone’s party is enough to forgive his snubbing Mr. Honeyfoot in the earlier chapters, though.
I am also very curious to see if Mr. Segundus will reappear. He is our protagonist in chapters one through three, but then we leave him alone, the last magician in York, and pick up in London with Mr. Norrell. I hope we see more of Mr. Segundus. I’m very curious to know if he and one of the attractive Misses Honeyfoot make a go of it. Or how his solitary studies go. I will admit that I’m not entirely sure how he could come back into the story, but I hold out hope.

I’m only four chapters in, so I’ve just started to get a taste of the book. I quite like Clarke’s writing style, although I’m not positive about using contemporary spelling. I don’t mind it, but I notice it every time and my brain takes that extra second to think, “oh, hey! Nifty!” instead of just rolling through to the next plot point. I have 800 or so pages to go though, so we’ll see if I continue to notice by the end.
It reminds me of The Night Circus and I’m sure that it was an influence on that book. I’ve read them out of order, so I’m seeing things that remind me of the younger book rather than seeing JS&MN‘s influence in The Night Circus. (As an aside, there are a surprisingly large number of books which involve a magical circus.)
I’m definitely interested in seeing where the book goes next. I’ll be back Friday with my thoughts on chapters 5 – 10.

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