Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

The Foreign Secretary was a quite 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. They were all as wise as Solomon, as noble as Caesar and as courageous as Mark Antony; and no one in the world so much resembled Socrates in point of honesty as the Chancellor of the Exchequer. But in spite of all these virtues and abilities none of the Ministers' plans to defeat the French ever seemed to come to anything and even their cleverness was complained of. Country gentlemen who read in their newspapers the speeches of this or that Minister would mutter to themselves that he was certainly a clever fellow. But the country gentlemen were not made comfortable by this thought. The country gentlemen had a strong suspicion that cleverness was somehow unBritish. That sort of restless, unpredictable brilliance belonged most of all to Britain's arch-enemy, the Emperor Napoleon Buonaparte; the country gentlemen could not approve it.
--from Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

I've just finished the book, which I've been meaning to read since it came out. Not because of the reviews or awards or anything so sensible (in it's way) as that but because I am a complete sucker for a great cover and I think that the cover for the hardcover was really fantastic. It's the simplicity that does it: the single font, the matte paper, the extremely limited palette. Unfortunately, I'm not a big fan of hardcovers. They're too big to carry around (although the trade version of this is also too big to be honest), they're heavy, they're awkward, and generally are just not as user-friendly as paperbacks. So I bought the paperback. But I have to say that I don't like the cover nearly as much. Adding the tree-lined road behind it, along with the somewhat queasy greenish color, takes away the cover's greatest strength. It's far less eye-catching in the trade edition and far more typical looking. I understand why they do it, but still...disappointing.

As for the book itself, I liked it well enough. Some of the reviews said, "Oh, the 800+ pages just fly by and leave you wishing for more." I have to say, I don't remember the last time I finished a book that long and wished for more. I don't mind long books at all, but once you get over 800 pages I tend to think the story is quite long enough. This was no exception. I'm not saying it dragged. Just that I noticed the length, I mean, my goodness, the book is exhausting to hold up, much less read. On the whole, I found the parts featuring only humans to be witty and entertaining, while the parts with the fairy didn't work quite as well for me. It was pleasant enough, but not something I'll be trying to force onto people.

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