By Susanna Clarke
Weighing in at over 780 pages, Johnathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is a hefty, plot dense book that will tide you over for days.
Despite its remarkably few characters for such a long work, it manages to entertain and reason with the most patient readers. Following the traditions of a comedy of manners as well as a historical novel, the book uses a backdrop of Napoleonic England as a stage for a resurging of ancient, forgotten magic back into -what is within the book – contemporary English society. Traditional English folklore on the supernatural abound; the fey are a large part of the plot, as are the uses of magic throughout history and debates as to what new magic should be used for.
The industrial revolution, contemporary magic, fairy interventions, romance, friendship, and the social etiquette of England all work to complicate the plot and give poor old Mr Norrell a hard time.
Half of the story is told through the footnotes; therein lies a good deal of the alternate history of England – as well the magical history – that Clarke cites, academic resource style. The other half is related normally, if lengthily. It does drone on at times, honestly, but its a stylistic choice that fits the plot and characters wonderfully.
That length can be either a deterrent or an attractant depending on your reading performances, but reading in small doses can help break up a dense work like this. Fans of classic novels of manners with an interest in the supernatural will enjoy this, as will those who prefer realism or casual social use in their supernatural tales.
And yes, I did find this for 1$ at a Dollar Tree. I was twelve and the book was too big for me to get my hands around the spine; I bought it as a challenge and remember it fondly years later.