Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke is a very strange book. To be honest, I've had it in the reading queue for several years seemingly now, but just never got around to it. Most books suffer when wrapped in the hyperbole of the press, and very few of them can live up to it. That was one reason for my hesitancy to read the book. However, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell not only lives up to it, but the book surpasses anything wonderful written about it. This is, quite simply, just a wonderful book. More to the point, this book is definitely not "Harry Potter for grown-ups" as some of the hype said; magic in this book is different, darker, more wintery, despite Clarke's occasional, charming flights of fancy.
The tone of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell reminded me far quite a lot of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, rather. First, there's nothing modern about this book, the tone and atmosphere being very much 19th Century. The spelling of many words is nineteenth century, and while many readers may find this annoying, I rather liked it, and thought it added tremendously to the charm, the authenticity of the book.
The author wove her own magical world into actual history, so seamlessly in fact that there were times when I really found myself caught up in her make-believe world. The book is replete with footnotes, something that I generally don't like, but these seemed to add very much to the verisimilitude of the story. While the book clocks in at nearly 800 pages of small type, it's not at all wordy and there's no filler here. It is so well constructed and nicely paced that it reads quite fast comparatively. One of the things I liked about the book is that the ending, which definitely was unpredictable, was bittersweet, heartbreaking, unforgettable, and when all is said and done, inevitable. There may be a sequel to the volume, as there is obviously a set-up for one, but it seemed quite reasonable to expect such a thing based on the ending of the book.
To put it bluntly, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is a ripping good yarn, extremely well crafted and written by a woman who promises to be one of today's most imaginative storytellers. Yes, the book really was that good.