Unsurprisingly, considering I started to read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell last Sunday and that it is a 1006 page book, I am still reading it. This was my third attempt and I think finally this time, I will see it through to the end. I am on page 218 (I feel like I need some sort of progress widget in my sidebar!) as I didn’t have much reading time this week, the majority of the 168 pages I’ve read since last week were read yesterday at the mother-in-laws and today. So I daresay I’ll be reading this next week to (and the week after!).
Anyway so far I am mostly really liking it, I’m still continuing with my policy of not reading the footnotes in the text as I think they detract from the story (although I live in fear that I’m going to miss something important) but other than that I think for a 1000+ story, it so far really well paced and not dragging at all. I keep finding myself comparing it to another book I’ve read recently, The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by G.W. Dahlquist (review contained near the bottom of this very long post, scroll down, you’ll find it just under the picture of the orangutan), a book that I did not get on with. The two stories are similar in that they are both very long (Glass Books is 700+ pages), both set in the 1800s and both written in a style similar to work from that period. But whereas my chief complaints with The Glass Books being that it dragged and was over-described, Jonathan Strange does not suffer (so far) from either of these points. I love the narrator of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, he (I assume it’s a he) has a certain all knowing-ness and can be quite dryly funny, with some comments that seem to echo 21st century life quite perfectly, for example, I liked this -
The Foreign Secretary was quite a peerless orator. No matter how low the Government stood in the estimation of everyone, when the Foreign Secretary stood up and spoke – ah! how different everything seemed then! How quickly was every bad thing discovered to be the fault of the previous administration (an evil set of men who wedded general stupidity to wickedness of purpose). As for the present Ministry, the Foreign Secretary said that not since the days of Antiquity had the world seen gentlemen so virtuous, so misunderstood and so horribly misrepresented by their enemies.
As I have probably said here before on the Salon, I followed Susan Hill’s Creative Writing Course and one of things she taught us was to learn from other people’s writing and I’ve found (so far) Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell to contain excellent examples of telling and not showing, courtesy of the book’s excellent narrator. The chapter introducing Jonathan Strange’s childhood is mostly telling and is consquently far more entertaining and far reaching and opposed to probably even more chapters that would have been required if the author had chosen to show the reader instead Strange’s background. I’ve also enjoyed some brilliant set scenes so far, the statues coming alive in York Cathedral, the rain ships and the scene where Norrell is talking to the green coated fairy in the blackened reflection of his study window, excellent stuff.