Why You Should Read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell Right Now

This is primarily a review, yes. But this is also a prod for those unfortunate souls who haven’t read this incredible book. I am just done with its second reading. It is easily one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Frankly, I like it even more the second time.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell, a 2004 out of the blue bestseller debut novel by British writer Sussana Clarke, is a really fat book and it’s quite a big story and takes up a lot of time to read. And there end the bad things….

It is a story about two magicians who revived Practical English Magic which was considered extinct and limited to theory since a long time before that. The novel opens up to introduce the York Society of Magicians in 1806. The magicians in the society were, of course, theoretical. One autumn day, one of the newer members of the society raised a pertinent question: Why there was no more actual magic done in England? Why was magic limited to books?

When he didn’t receive a satisfactory answer he went on to search the answer himself with one of his comrades. He couldn’t find the answer but, after some difficulties, managed to find the reclusive Gilbert Norell – a practical magician.

Followed by a public display of magic, Mr. Norell soon became famous. He moved to London and gained acquaintances of one of the topmost people in England, including the top government officials. He, with his magic, even started to help the British government in the war against French.

While Norell was a genuinely practical magician, he had a few characteristic defects. He was not amiable and didn’t much like social gatherings, parties and even when a lot of people thronged together etc etc. For that reason, he couldn’t really become as popular as his pupil: the charming Jonathan Strange. He was also selfish and didn’t want another practical magician in the country. To achieve this, he started to lock away every magic spell-book he could find to his library, which was hidden magically, at Hurtfew-Abbey, his old abode, in York. About first-third of the novel (first volume) is dominated by Norell.


Then came Jonathan Strange. He was goaded to choose magic as his profession by the recitation of an ancient prophecy by a street magician. While first Norell saw Strange as his rival, he later made him his student and even took a liking to him, probably because he had no one else to talk magic to.

Young and charismatic and with a cheerful disposition, it didn’t take long for Strange to be the next big thing. He even became the primary choice of government’s magical support in the war against France. The government officials simply found him a lot more comfortable to manage than his tutor, Norell. The second volume is, for the most part, concerned with Strange.

Strange and Norell later quarrel. The biggest reason of their dispute was their opinion of the Raven King. The Raven King was the king who, it was believed, brought magic to England from the Faerie, the mystical land supposed to be inhabited by fairies and other magical beings. Norell shunned every study about Raven King while Strange said it is foolish to ignore him by magicians as they study his very magic. They part their ways, quite reluctantly.

That’s all I would tell you about the plot. For the fate of Strange, Norell, and others, you will have to read it for yourself. And please, do read it. Every reader worth his salt should read perfect books like this. Writing is superb, and for a debut novel, simply out of the world. Some readers might be put-off by the archaic prose (which reminded me of Jane Austene) and spellings (shew for show, for instance) but I liked it.

It is incredibly funny and witty with a lot of ironic expressions and dialogues. Characters are nice too. I’ve seen some reviews in which I saw people complaining regarding the pacing of the novel. I, personally, didn’t find any problems about it. But that might be because I have a lot of patience when it comes to books, and especially books like this. I also loved the starkly simple cover design. A relief from the gaudy covers of most books these days.

I have just three parting words for you: READ IT NOW!


7 thoughts on “Why You Should Read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell Right Now

    • Thanks for the comment and compliment. 🙂 I did see many people complaining about the pacing bit (including my girlfriend who still swears by it) I think Clarke did a sublime job considering this was her first book. I loved every bit of it but then I’m a very singular reader.

  1. Bhai, since I’m forced to read this post, this book better be as good as you claim. Otherwise I’ll eat you alive! 😛

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