This is one of the very lengthy novels. Yet finishing this gives me a hollow feeling, make me want to reread it twice or trice. While not reading this, there were some thought in my head that went back to this book again and again. It was the first book in two years that could enchant me like this.
The setting took place in Napoleonic England. Clarke took this period setting in and created an alternative world, alternative history with magic in it. I really feel like I can walk down into that age through reading this, since it felt so real by mood, narrative tone, and social commentary based on the process of Restoration of English Magic, mindset and attitude of characters that accurate to the history.
Writing style reminded me of Victorian classic novels. For I always fascinating by Austen and Dickens' prose, I fell in love with Clarke's. Compare to both writer I referred to, Clarke's writing is much easier to read and it is very lovely. The storytelling was like Austen's, through the conversation and interaction between each characters. However, there is a dry humour that a bit like Dickens and there is some whimsical of fairy-tale which something of Clarke's own voice. Such a writing style properly gets along with the setting and the story.
Magic in this book gave me a bit of magic in Harry Potter, there is a spell to cast in various way (though without wands). They came to solve some problem occurred in England that time and took role in the Napoleonic War. As the story progressed to one point, it became more mysterious, more dangerous and grew unfathomable. Fairies, with their mischief behavior, added in and helped make the story more dark and gritty. On the last part of the book, sometime I felt chilled when reading some chapter as it grew darker.
What remarkable of Susanna Clarke's writing is her solid characterization. Every character, main protagonists and minor characters, all has each own distinguished character, vividly portrayed, very animated and fully developed. Jonathan Strange the main protagonist was a very bright young man who seems to be friendly toward everyone and quite respectable for many people. He also have many flaws such as recklessness, arrogant, too proud of his ability, his obsession in magic that made him forgot his wife many times, and sometimes ruthless. His entire flaw eventually destroyed him later. Mr. Norrell, Strange's tutor, have very complex and self-conflict character, he was a bookworm geek, a coward, introvert and isolated. He was very ambitious to revive English Magic despite the fact that he was afraid of another magician who might come and replace his position. There are a lot of minor characters who I really like such as Childermass, Arabella, Segundus, Lord Wellington, Sir Walter Pole, Vinculus, Stephen, a Gentleman with thistle-down hair and so on.
Another feature of this book is the usage of footnote. For me, I like to read footnote of translated book about anything I didn't understand of another culture. This book footnoted only of imaginary books and fairy-tales which only exist in Clarke's world! And for the longest, it scored a record of 3 pages with Angsana New 8 font! Almost every chapter there are footnotes, some was short and some was long, told us more information of what characters were talking about. Some of footnotes is really funny and very entertained. However, if you don't like footnote, you can skip them all and come back and reread them later.
This book is quite a slow book. It took times to develop setting, character's background. It's a book for savour every bits of details that Clarke meticulously weave into the words. It's character-centered. Each conflict disperses over every page. There are some conflicts and mysteries unsolved until the end. Its might irritated someone who preferred to have every conflict solved. Thus, this kind of ending even made the theme felt more grounded.
Definitely on of the best book I have read this year.