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Archive for January, 2014

This is my second post in the ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr.Norrell’ readalong. 

Jonathan Strange And Mr Norrell By Susanna Clarke

I have some bad news. I couldn’t read for most of the week because of a family emergency. I thought I will be able to catch up during the latter part of the week, but, unfortunately, it was not possible. I thought I will read atleast half of the second volume of the book and post on that, but I couldn’t even do that. I could read just fifty pages in the second volume. I apologize to fellow readalong participants for not being able to finish reading volume 2 and letting you down. I promise that I will catch up with you during the coming week.

My favourite parts of the second volume till now were the re-appearance of Mr.Segundus and Mr.Honeyfoot, the magic that Jonathan Strange did – the subtle one where he interchanges a book with its image in the mirror, so that the image is outside while the book is inside the mirror and the story told in the long footnote on the Master of Nottingham’s daughter. I also liked the references to Mr.Lewis (Matthew Gregory Lewis who wrote ‘The Monk’) and Mrs.Radcliffe (Ann Radcliffe who wrote ‘The Mysteries of Udolpho’). I am looking forward to reading more.

Two of my favourite passages from volume 2 till now are these :

A great horse-chestnut leant over the road and made a pool of black shadow, and when the two riders reached the shadow it swallowed them up so that nothing remained of them except their voices. 

If we measure a magician’s success by how much magic he does, then Absalom was no magician at all, for his spells hardly ever took effect. However, if instead we examine the amount of money a magician makes and allow that to be our yardstick, then Absalom was certainly one of the greatest English magicians who ever lived, for he was born in poverty and died a very rich man. 

 

Here are the links to the thoughts of other participants of the readalong on volume 2.

 

Delia (Postcards from Asia)

TJ (My Book Strings)

            Fleur (Fleur in her World)

         Yasmine (Yasmine Rose’s Book Blog)

For more information on this readalong, do visit here or here.

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This is my first post in the ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr.Norrell’ readalong. I finished reading the first volume, ‘Mr.Norrell’ today. Here is what I think about it.

Jonathan Strange And Mr Norrell By Susanna Clarke

Story

 

It is the autumn of 1806. Jane Austen is still around. She is 31. And she hasn’t yet published her first book ‘Sense and Sensibility’. That will have to wait for five more years. The Napoleonic wars are in full swing. Admiral Thomas Cochrane (the inspiration for the character of Jack Aubrey in the novel ‘Master and Commander’ by Patrick O’Brian) is the captain of a ship in the British navy and Captain Frederick Marryat (author of ‘The Children of the New Forest) works as a midshipman in the same vessel. The British navy is busy engaging and fending off the French navy in battles at sea. And England is a land where magic has long disappeared. There are societies of magicians in different cities in Britain who meet regularly and discuss the history of magic. Their members call themselves theoretical magicians. Nobody practices practical magic. No one knows how to do it. Then one of the members of the York society of magicians discovers an enigmatic magician who avoids people, and who is believed to be a practical magician. Two of the society members travel to this magician’s place to investigate. They learn that this gentleman is a practical magician. His name is Mr.Norrell. And one day he demonstrates his magical skills in a very impressive way. His fame spreads far and wide. Mr.Norrell feels that he can do good for his country in the war, if he moves to London. He does that. But, as a person, Norrell doesn’t look very interesting. He looks like a scholar and he talks like one. People are easily bored with him. One day a potential patron of his, Sir Walter Pole, suffers a big tragedy. His fiancée dies of illness. Mr.Norrell’s friends request him to use magic to bring back the young woman from the dead. After a lot of cajoling and convincing, Norrell agrees to do that. And he does it quite impressively. Norrell becomes a superstar among the London elite and is frequently invited to the London salons of famous patrons. Even the government takes his help in fighting the war with the French and Norrell uses magic impressively to do that. This is what most of what the first volume is about. Towards the end of volume 1, we are introduced to Jonathan Strange, who has inherited a big fortune after his father has passed away, and the woman he loves, Arabella. And a street magician reads out a prophecy that two great magicians will come out in England.

 

Impressions

 

I have been intimidated by the size of ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr.Norrell’ and so have avoided reading it for years. After starting it, I discovered that inspite of its size and tiny font, it is quite fast-paced and the story flows smoothly. Not fast-paced like a modern day crime novel, but fast-paced in a leisurely way like a Victorian novel. Susanna Clarke sprinkles the story with sentences filled with Victorian style humour which enlivens the reading experience. (If you are nitpicky about such things, the Victorian era started in 1837 and lasted till 1901. The period in which ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr.Norrell’ is set is the Georgian era. But for purposes of this post, I am calling the whole 19th century as the Victorian era.)  

 

Susanna Clarke’s prose style is quite modern but it is also Victorian and reflects the period in which the novel is set in. How Susanna Clarke managed to do that – make a sentence look Victorian and modern at the same time – one will never know. It is magic, if you ask me.

 

As could be expected in a novel of this size, it is sprinkled with dozens of characters. Some of them, of course, are major characters (for example, Mr.Norrell) while others are minor (for example, John Segundus), but all of them have interesting roles to play. One of my favourite minor characters is Perroquet, the short servant of the French Admiral Desmoulins. He is smart and intelligent, uses his reasoning skills to telling effect and teaches the French naval officers a thing or two. Unfortunately, it looks like he is destined to play a role in only chapter – unless he makes an appearance again in the second part of the book. Another of my favourite characters is Stephen Black, the African butler of Sir Walter Pole. He is handsome, smart, intelligent and is admired by real people and fairies alike. I am hoping that Stephen Black will have a major role to play in the latter part of the book. On Arabella, the young woman whom Jonathan Strange loves – I wonder whether Susanna Clarke named (probably) her heroine Arabella to pay homage to the original Arabella from Rafael Sabatini’s ‘Captain Blood’.

 

I liked the way Susanna Clarke fleshed out the essence of a character through a few broad brushstrokes. For example, she says this about Mr.Segundus :

 

Mr.Segundus was one of those happy gentlemen who can always say whether they face north or south, east or west. It was not a talent he took any particular pride in – it was as natural to him as knowing that his head still stood upon his shoulders.

 

And this about Mr.Lascelles :

 

Mr.Lascelles was one of that uncomfortable breed of men who despise steady employment of any sort. Though perfectly conscious of his own superior understanding, he had never troubled to acquire any particular skills or knowledge, and had arrived at the age of thirty-nine entirely unfitted for any office or occupation.

 

And this about Mrs.Wintertowne :

 

Mrs.Wintertowne, whose character was so forceful, and whose opinions were handed down to people in the manner of Moses distributing the commandments, did not appear in the least offended when her daughter contradicted her. Indeed she seemed almost pleased about it.

 

There are also beautiful sentences in the book. Like this one :

 

A great old church in the depths of winter is a discouraging place at the best of times; the cold of a hundred winters seems to have been preserved in its stones and to seep out of them.

 

And this one :

 

Three tall windows open on a view of English countryside which is tranquil in spring, cheerful in summer, melancholy in autumn and gloomy in winter.

 

And this one :

 

According to Mr.Drawlight, Mr.Norrell’s company was like seasoning : the smallest pinch of it could add a relish to the entire dish.

 

And this one :

 

A bleak, white sun rose in a bleak, white sky like an allegorical picture of despair…

 

The book also has an interesting feature which was prevalent among many novels published in the early few years of the 21st century – a profusion of footnotes. It appears that that fad has died away now, but it was fun while it lasted. There were some ‘giant’ footnotes in this book – for example the ones on Tubbs versus Starhouse and Simon Bloodworth – which spanned multiple pages and pushed the actual story to a distant corner of the page. I love footnotes and so enjoyed reading these giant ones, but some readers might find them distracting. There is also a nod to Mrs.Radcliffe (Ann Radcliffe, who wrote ‘The Mysteries of Udolpho’) a couple of times, which I liked very much.

 

The first volume of ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr.Norrell’ sets the stage for the rest of the story by introducing us to the setting and the historical period and to many of the characters and showing us a part of their lives. I can’t wait to continue the story and read the second volume and find out more about Jonathan Strange and Arabella.

 

Here are the links to the thoughts of other participants of the readalong.

 

Delia (Postcards from Asia)

TJ (My Book Strings)

            Fleur (Fleur in her World)

         Yasmine (Yasmine Rose’s Book Blog)

For more information on this readalong, do visit here or here.

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Today is the start of the ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr.Norrell’ readalong hosted by Delia from Postcards from Asia and me. We thought we will wish everyone a happy time reading this beautiful book and we are looking forward to reading your impressions of the first part of the book next weekend.

 

For those of you who are still sitting on the fence, I thought you might like reading the book blurb :

 

The year is 1806. England is beleaguered by the long war with Napoleon, and centuries have passed since practical magicians faded into the nation’s past. But scholars of this glorious history discover that one remains : the reclusive Mr.Norrell whose displays of magic send a thrill through the country. Proceeding to London, he raises a beautiful woman from the dead and summons an army of ghostly ships to terrify the French. Yet the cautious, fussy Norrell is challenged by the emergence of another magician : the brilliant novice Jonathan Strange. Young, handsome and daring, Strange is the very antithesis of Norrell. So begins a dangerous battle between these two great men which overwhelms the one between England and France. And their own obsessions and secret dabblings with the dark arts are going to cause more trouble than they can imagine.

 Jonathan Strange And Mr Norrell By Susanna Clarke

If you are interested in participating, do leave a comment either here or in Delia’s introduction post, with a link to your blog.

 

As mentioned in our previous posts, our review schedule will be as follows :

 

  • Volume 1 : Mr Norrell (261 pages)  – review to be posted on 18th January (Saturday)
  • Volume 2 : Jonathan Strange (368 pages) – review to be posted on 25th January (Saturday)
  • Volume 3 : John Uskglass (369 pages) – review to be posted on 1st February (Saturday)

 

The following are the readalong participants and links to their introductory posts.

 

Delia (Postcards from Asia)

Vishy (Vishy’s Blog)

Yasmine (Yasmine Rose’s Book Blog)

Fleur (Fleur in her World)

TJ (My Book Strings)

 

Happy reading!

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A few years back I was in the middle of reading books which had wizards and magicians, mostly set in today’s world, in which young boys and girls wielded magic wands and fought with villains who were threatening to destroy the world. Harry Potter was, of course, the most famous one, but there were others whom I loved equally well – like Artemis Fowl, the Djinn Bartimaeus and his magician and Percy Jackson. One of the books that I got during this time was Susanna Clarke’s ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr.Norrell’. It had magicians and wizardry in it but it seemed to be a novel for grownups with grownup characters. It was different from other novels which purveyed magic in two ways. First, at more than 1000 pages, it rivalled established classics like ‘War and Peace’ and ‘Gone with the Wind’ for the ‘Chunkster’ title. And second, it was a one-volume work, unlike other ‘magic’ novels which were a series of books (Harry Potter was a 7-part series, Bartimaeus was a 3-part series, Artemis Fowl was an 8-part series.) Both these together made me want to get this book. But its size always intimidated me and inspite of the rave reviews it got (Neil Gaiman calls it “unquestionably, the finest English novel of the fantastic written in the last seventy years” – real high praise, indeed) I postponed reading it. It looked like this book was destined for the ‘tsundoku’ life for a while (‘tsundoku’ (in Japanese) = the act of leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piled up together with other such unread books).

Jonathan Strange And Mr Norrell By Susanna Clarke

When my old friend Delia from Postcards from Asia said that she too had a copy of this book, I was quite excited. We had an excited conversation about it and decided to do a readalong. If you would like to read and discuss this chunky, beautiful book, do grab a copy of this book and join us. The rules of the readalong are as follows :

 

  1. The readalong starts on 11th January (this coming Saturday)
  2. The book is divided into three volumes, so the readalong will take place across three weeks:

·         Volume I: Mr Norrell (261 pages) – review to be posted on 18th January

·         Volume II: Jonathan Strange (368 pages) – review to be posted on 25th January

·         Volume III: John Uskglass (369 pages) – review to be posted on 1st of February

  1. If you’d like to participate, do mention that in the comments (here or on Delia’s blog, or both if you like) and link back to your blog. This way we can add your review to the weekly post. You can also join at any time during the readalong.

 

Looking forward to discussing this book during the coming weeks. Happy reading!

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It is the second day of the New Year and it is time to look back on the old year. From a bookish perspective, I had fun looking back at my reading experience the previous year and thinking about which were the books I liked the most. Here is what came out of my thinking.

 

I had an interesting reading year. I read some beautiful books by authors whom I hadn’t heard of before and in the process discovered some wonderful new writers. I celebrated ‘My Year of Reading French Literature’ and in the process read my first Balzac, my first surrealist novel (Andre Breton’s ‘Nadja’), my first French-Canadian writer (Nicole Brossard) and my first Marguerite Duras book, read my first novel-in-verse, my first book by a fictitious author (Richard Castle), my first Swedish novel, the latest book by Barbara Kingsolver, Dan Brown, Neil Gaiman and Julian Barnes and re-read ‘The Three Musketeers’ after a long time. I also participated in RIP VIII and German Literature Month.

 

My most favourite book of 2013 was ‘The Wall’ by Marlen Haushofer. It is my most favourite German book ever and it is one of my favourite books of alltime. If you haven’t read it yet, get it now and read it today 🙂

 

This is the complete list of my favourite books from 2013. There are lots of them, and that is because I like most of the books I read. I think I have reached the stage, where I instinctively pick books that I will end up liking. For the picture books I have written a brief description, because I haven’t reviewed most of them. For the rest, I have linked the titles to my reviews of the books.

 

Picture Books

 

(1) Frogs by Nic Bishop – This is a photo essay on frogs and how they live. There are stunning, colourful photos of different types of frogs throughout the book – bullfrogs and red-eyed frogs and yellow-coloured gliding frogs and strawberry and blue-coloured dart poison frogs and glass frogs which have transparent skin. I never knew that frogs came in so many different bright colours. The book also talks about how frog parents take care of their children – how African bullfrogs fiercely defend their eggs and tadpoles, how the marsupial frog carries its eggs and tadpoles in its pouch, how the strawberry dart poison frog takes care of each of her tadpole babies individually and feeds them – she looks almost human. The author Nic Bishop is not just a photographer but is also a proper biological scientist with a doctorate in biology. I have been indifferent to frogs till now, but after reading this book, I have fallen in love with them. I will look forward to reading my next Nic Bishop book. If you have young children at home or you want to gift books to your nephews / nieces or your friend’s children, gift them this one. Thanks a lot to my favourite friend for seeing the child in me and gifting me this beautiful book.

Frogs By Nic Bishop

(2) Portland Impressions by Steve Terrill – This is a photo album on the beautiful city of Portland in Oregon. Portland is one of my favourite cities in the world. One of the reasons is that one of my favourite friends is from there. Another reason is that it is the home of some of my favourite writers – Virginia Euwer Wolff (her ‘The Mozart Season’ is one of the great Portland YA novels and deserves to me more widely read), Ursula Le Guin, Alexis Smith. And then, of course, there is the wonderful Powell’s, the only bookshop in the world which stocked Cuban novelist José Lezama Lima’s ‘Paradiso‘. This beautiful book-sized photo essay by award winning photographer Steve Terrill, is a fitting tribute to this beautiful city and has stunning photographs which bring out Portland in all its glory. There are pictures of the city’s skyline, the snowcapped Mount Hood, the Columbia and the Willamette rivers, the Columbia River Gorge, the interesting bridges, the renowned flower gardens, the universities, the sculptural homage to Lewis and Clark, the sculpture of Portlandia, the Singing Christmas tree, the boat festivals at the waterfront during different times of the year – they are all featured there. I was hoping to see photos of the Laurelhurst pub and some depicting the literary and art scene in the city, but unfortunately they were not featured. But PortlandStateUniversity was featured and so was the wonderful Powell’s. That made me very happy. If you want to read books about this beautiful city, I would recommend two – this beautiful book and Virginia Euwer Wolff’s wonderful ‘The Mozart Season’. If you would like to watch a movie set in this city, I would recommend ‘Feast of Love’ which is mostly set in PortlandStateUniversity and stars Morgan Freeman with others.

Portland Impressions By Steve Terrill

(3) Mother’s Love : Inspiring Stories from the Animal Kingdom by Melina Gerosa Bellows – This has beautiful photographs of animal mothers and their cute babies with quotes on mothers by writers and stories on how animals mothers risked everything to save their kids. Can keep looking at the pictures all day. Most of my favourite cats are featured – lioness, cheetah, lynx, tiger, housecat, leopard – only the puma was missing. My favourite quote from the book was by author Elizabeth Stone – “Making a decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” A must for animal lovers.

Mothers Love By Melina Gerosa Bellows

(4) Let’s Do Nothing by Tony Fucile – This is a picture book and tells the story of two friends Frankie and Sal, who feel that they have done most things – having played all games including board games, read most comics, pained more pictures than Van Gogh, baked lots of cookies – and now they don’t know what to do. Sal suggests that they do nothing for a short while and Frankie agrees. But ‘doing nothing’ is not as simple as it seems. Actually it turns out to be the most difficult thing. What happens after that is the rest of the story. I found it funny and also very insightful because the book shows how difficult it is to be quiet or do nothing for even a short while, especially for our 21st century mind which is filled with a blizzard of thoughts. And it does that in a way that children can understand. The story is humorous and funny and the theme it addresses is very Zen. I totally loved it. This is a wonderful book to gift to your children or to your nieces / nephews or your friends’ children.

 Lets Do Nothing By Tony Fucile

German Books

 

(5) The Wall by Marlen Haushofer

 The Wall By Marlen Haushofer

(6) Mrs. Sartoris by Elke Schmitter

 Mrs Sartoris By Elke Schmitter

(7) The Thirtieth Year by Ingeborg Bachmann

 The Thirtieth Year By Ingeborg Bachmann

French Books

 

(8) Yesterday, at the Hotel Clarendon by Nicole Brossard

 Yesterday At The Hotel Clarendon By Nicole Brossard

(9) Père Goriot by Honoré de Balzac

 Pere Goriot By Honore De Balzac

(10) The Square by Marguerite Duras

Four Novels By Marguerite Duras 

(11) The Mark of the Angel by Nancy Huston

 The Mark Of The Angel By Nancy Huston

(12) The Lost Estate by Alain-Fournier

 The Lost Estate Le Grand Meaulnes By Alain Fournier

(13) One Hundred Great French Books by Lance Donaldson-Evans

 One Hundred Great French Books By Lance Donaldson Evans

English Books

 

(14) Glaciers by Alexis M. Smith

 Glaciers By Alexis Smith

(15) The Language of Others by Clare Morrall

 The Language Of Others By Clare Morrall

(16) A Virtual Love by Andrew Blackman

 AVirtualLoveByAndrewBlackmanSmallerVersion

YA Books

 

(17) The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

 The Fault In Our Stars By John Green

(18) Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

 Eleanor And Park By Rainbow Rowell

(19) The Pull of Gravity by Gae Polisner

 The Pull Of Gravity By Gae Polisner

Poetry

 

(20) The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth

 The Golden Gate By Vikram Seth

Memoir

 

(21) Somewhere Towards the End by Diana Athill

 Somewhere Towards The End By Diana Athill

(22) She Left Me the Gun by Emma Brockes

 She Left Me The Gun By Emma Brockes

Now some numbers with respect to my reading experience in 2013.

 

Total No. of books read – 70

 

Books by genre

 

Fiction – 46

Non-Fiction – 5

Comics – 4

Plays – 2

Poetry – 1

Picture Books – 6

Children Books – 6

 

Fiction by genre

 

Classics – 6

Literary Fiction – 22

Young Adult – 6

Thriller / Horror / Fantasy – 11

Science Fiction – 1

 

Books by language in which they were originally written

 

English –  46

French –  12

German – 5

Tamil – 2

Spanish – 1

Italian – 1

Swedish – 1

Yiddish – 1

Japanese – 1

 

Books by

 

Men authors – 40

Women authors – 30

 

The two things I was disappointed with was that I read only 12 French books (it was after all ‘My Year of Reading French Literature’ – I should have read more), and I read only 5 German books (Normally I read 10 German books during German Literature Month alone.) I am hoping to read more French and German books during the coming year. I also want to read more comics.

 

How was your reading year in 2013?

 

Wish you a very Happy New Year! Hope your year is filled with lots of beauty and light and joy and happiness and lots of books and beautiful reading moments.

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