Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell
In the off chance that magic suddenly experiences a resurgence in the near future, I hope it decides to pop up somewhere more exciting than England. Now, I've got nothing against England. I keep the Sex Pistols in heavy rotation. I am willing to fork over my hard earned money for decent seats whenever Eddie Izzard is in town. I'm as big a fan of gloomy weather as the next guy. But, and I'm going to be blunt here, the English are far too hesitant to do anything badass with magic. Compare Gilbert Norrell with, oh, David Blaine. Or Criss Angel. Granted, the aforementioned magicians are nothing but the common street variety vagabonds who are loathed ever-so-much by those studying "real" magic, but whatever happened to theatrics? Can I get a little sorcery over here? Gilbert Norrell serves up the magical equivalent of two-day-old dry toast. If magic is ever, for whatever reason, possible, I am hoping for an American renaissance. Blowing shit up. Lighting things on fire. Vaporizing the great state of Texas. But, no. Instead we get rain where rain should not be. Endless droning about magical theory. Walking into and out of mirrors. For eight hundred pages.You'd think that with such a lack of action, this book must offer something. Great characters, perhaps? Nah. How about poorly developed protagonists who vary only slightly from one another, experiencing the same flaws and thought processes? Maybe we'll just give Ms. Clarke the benefit of the doubt and say that Strange and Norrell were mirrors of one another, or, perhaps, foils. It's either that or focus on the fact that the characters were obsessed with nothing other than magic. And that goes for even the non-magical ones. Norrell, admittedly, was asexual (or perhaps had homosexual yearnings for his protege), but Strange was a married man. And his wife Arabella was something of a nineteenth century hottie. Is there no sex? No lovers' quarrel? No children? No...life?Clarke left out so much of what would have made this a good story. Her plot was so subtle, so well thought out, that it sort of started eating its own tail. Right when you thought it might be getting somewhere, it circled right back around to more of the same old mundane plot points.Now, that's not to say the work was without merit. On the contrary, it was rather enjoyable to read. I get the feeling that Clarke loved her book. It's evident on every page. I also read it at the right time. It's a good Halloween book. Not scary in any way, but it sets the right mood. After reading it, I started feeling as though there was something more to that wind blowing in from the north, that the trees were swaying in a rather intentional way. I liked that. It put me in a festive state of mind. And, while the characters were boring, they were boring in a fun way. Like British sitcoms on PBS in the middle of the night. There was always something to chuckle at, and I think most of it was intentional.