Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Read by Simon Prebble
Length: 32Hrs 2Min
A wonderfully performed audiobook can be like music sometimes, it pulls you in with it’s beauty, mesmerizes you with it’s rhythms and cadence and puts you in a altered state. The problem with this is, when the story isn’t as engaging, or you are in a relaxed state, you begin to listen and appreciate the performance more so than what is being performed. You enjoy the experience, and find yourself floating in the music of the words, yet sometimes losing the context behind them. The positive side of this, is sometimes, simple the beauty of the performance keeps you in the game long enough to get sucked into it.
This was in someways my experience with Jonathon Strange & Mr. Norrell, a lavishly written and brilliantly performed fantasy opus about the reemergence of magic to England. For the first third of the novel, I found myself drifting at times. Simon Prebble’s narration carried me away like a master musician, yet the story itself, at times, lost me. Jonathon Strange & Mr. Norrell should have been an extremely hard novel to perform, with frequent sidetrips and added footnotes, that for some narrators would have disrupted the rhythms of the prose, yet Prebble weaves them together flawlessly, making each side trip just another thread in a grand tapestry. It wasn’t until about the 10 hour point, when Strange was working his magic in the aid of England against Napoleon in Spain the performance and story crash together making each worthy of the other.
I choose to listen to Jonathon Strange & Mr. Norrell, after years of hesitation, due to the coming BBC series. I feared the 30 hour time frame, but decided to take the ride. So, this review comes with a big, “late to the party” feel. Do I really need to “review” a novel that had reached such acclaim? All I can do is talk about my experience. Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell blends historical and fantasy fiction in a unique way that I loved. It’s told not in a straight path, or even in a non-linear but focused story, but instead the story is like a maze, taking you in many directions, with only a few leading back to the main body of the tail. In many ways, it’s the unconnected side trips that build the heart of the novel. While the battle between Jonathon Strange & Mr. Norrell serves as the base story, the beauty comes in the deeper world that surrounds these narcissistic characters and their almost petty fueding.
I was hesitant to start this novel for many reasons, yet I am glad I took the leap. At times the listening to this audiobook felt like I was sitting in a warm comfortable room, sipping some cocoa while a slightly eccentric but engaging old man tells me of times long ago full of just enough embellishments and asides that the tale feels almost real.