Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell

How can you make a novel about a magical world tedious?  Well, make it 1000+ pages, check.  Footnotes, that add nothing, check. I resisted this book for years.  Originally published in 2004, at that time I was working at a bookstore and the hype surrounding this first time novel was ape-shit.  That is not always a good thing.  Also, it had a ringing endorsement from a fellow bookseller that has questionable taste. Very questionable taste.  My instincts were right.  It was over-publicized and the taste is still very questionable.

Set in early 1800's England, magic is not a fictional construct but a part of the history of Great Britain.  A gentleman could "study" magic, but no gentlemen "practised" magic anymore.  That is until one rich jackass does, then another rich jackass does.  At first they get along, then they don't.  Also, fairies are the ultimate jackasses, but you knew that already. I know what you are thinking, fairies...then there will be sexy vampires.  No, in this book the closest you get to a vampire is an alcoholic bum that lives under a bush. 

It took Susanna Clarke ten years to write this book.  She wrote it in her spare time. You would think it would have more passion after editing cookbooks all day. It feels more like trying to make a sourdough starter using wild yeast. Yeah, lets let it sit out for a month and hope random floating crap in the air will make it interesting. Also, it has some of the WORST illustrations I have ever seen. Keep in mind, I went to a state university art school. I saw hungover Goth kids draw something 15 minutes before the critique that looked better than these. 

Illustrations aside, this is not a terrible fantasy book, but not worth the hype.  Apparently it is currently in production for a seven episode series on BBC and it could be kick-ass so I'm keeping an open mind. 

As for a drink pairing, this book, if nothing, is a glimpse into the class hierarchies in England in the early 1800's.  So your choice of drink while reading this might say something about your social strata. 

In this time period, high class ladies and gentlemen might drink Claret, which is the British word for a Bordeaux.  If you are lower class, you drink gin.  This is particularly true if you have no major issues about living under the local shrubbery.  I like both.  Screw the hierarchies.

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