This massive novel conjures up an alternate universe wherein England was once a land filled with magic. Unfortunately, by the beginning of the 19th century, this magic seems to have disappeared: while there are many English scholars of magical history and theory, not one of them is capable of actually performing any magic. That is, until a reclusive gentleman from Yorkshire, Mr. Norrell, claims to be a practical magician – and demonstrates his abilities in a very convincing manner. Now Mr. Norrell is a celebrity, and he has moved to London in order to assist the English government with its war against Napoleon. He proclaims to be the greatest magician of the age, and no one is able to contradict him – until a brilliant young man named Jonathan Strange demonstrates some extraordinary abilities of his own.
I’m having some trouble collecting my thoughts about this book. I can’t say that it will rank among my all-time favorites, but I truly believe that it is a remarkable achievement. The book is incredibly long and diffuse; Clarke imitates the style of the great Victorian novelists (and does so very well, I might add) with numerous digressions, a laundry list of characters, and extensive footnotes. The plot meanders along at a glacial pace, and there is hardly any real “action” in the book. However, Clarke has created a complete and meticulously crafted world, in which the historical context of 19th-century England is interwoven with ancient mythology and faerie magic. Honestly, I was amazed by the result. I strongly recommend this book and will be looking out for more of Clarke’s work in the future.