Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell - Susanna Clarke This debut novel from Susanne Clarke is one of my all-time favorite books. I've read this long, wandering and complex novel several times, and I've often tried to think through why this novel appeals to me so much.I think I've narrowed it down to three factors, all of which are hard to pin down, nebulous and complex traits of a great novel. The first is the fact that the story is well grounded in Napoleonic and British history is important to me. I LOVE novels that are well grounded in history, whether fake history (like the Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones) or real history (like Jonathon Strange or Tim Powers masterful DECLARE and Stress of Her Regard). The story needs to feel as if it has a skeleton of deep reality under it, and that that reality is fully fleshed and real to the characters. The second is the Jane Austen-like tone of the novel, in which English social mores are vitally important to the "gentlemen" and "ladies" of the novel, and it is fascinating to see how perfectly Susanna Clarke mirrors this style of 18th/19th century writing, and makes it come to life again. One of my favorite moments of dialogue in the novel encompasses this entirely: “Can a magician kill a man by magic?” Lord Wellington asked Strange. Strange frowned. He seemed to dislike the question. “I suppose a magician might,” he admitted, “but a gentleman never would.” Finally, the complex and intertwining plot strands are endlessly fascinating to me. Clarke makes the intricate plotwork look marvelously easy, and I find it hard to believe she'll ever find a way of topping this kind of amazing storytelling. And integral to the plot is the way that these characters are fully fleshed real people with problems, relationship issues and a sense of their own proportion in the world -- Childermass is an excellent example of this sense of his own worth, even against a world that devalues him as merely a "servant."These are just a few of the many wonderful attributes of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell that makes it such an amazing read, and one of my favorite books.