So now we have reached the end of the third week of the readalong. I had a bad reading week during the second week, but I am happy to say that I managed to catch up during the third week (I don’t think I have read so much in a week before) and though I am a couple of days late, I am happy to be posting my review today.
Because I couldn’t read much of the second volume last week, I thought I will write about both the second and third volumes today.
In the second volume, Jonathan Strange and Arabella are married and move to London. Strange starts learning and practising magic on his own. One of his friends suggests that he become a student of Norrell. After thinking about it a bit, Strange goes to meet Norrell and after the initial hiccups Norrell is glad to accept him as his student. They have some wonderful times together discussing magic, trying new spells and helping the government. At some point Strange goes to Spain and stays with the English army and helps the army during the war using magic. His reputation grows. Meanwhile Stephen Black and Lady Pole get abducted each night and dance at a night-long magical party and they come back during the day to their regular homes. They are not able to complain about it to anyone because when they try, what they want to say doesn’t come out but they start describing some unrelated event or story because of a magical spell cast by the fairy which is abducting them. If I can make a long story short, at some point Strange comes back from the war, he and Norrell have a fallout and they part ways. The abducting fairy now starts eyeing someone else to kidnap to his party. And towards the end of the second volume one of my favourite characters dies. It was so unexpected and heartbreaking. (Susanna Clarke, how can you do this??)
In the third volume, Strange and Norrell start having a cold war of sorts and Norrell sabotages every attempt that Strange makes to take magic to the public and he also maligns Strange’s name at every turn. Strange writes and publishes a book on English magic and Norrell makes it disappear. At some point because of some things which happen (and about which I can’t write about, because I will be revealing spoilers), Strange and the fairy which abducts people, get into a war. Initially Strange is at the receiving end, but then he learns now spells and techniques and gives it back. And then the place Strange lives in gets enveloped by eternal night.
What happens to Norrell and Strange? Are they able to resolve their differences? What happens to Stephen Black and Lady Pole? Are they able to come out of the clutches of the fairy? Why did that favourite character have to die at the end of the second volume? And does Strange’s plan to take magic to the general public succeed? What about the Raven King? Does he make an appearance? Is the eternal night problem resolved? The answers to all these questions form the rest of the book.
I enjoyed reading ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr.Norrell’. Though the thickness of the book (big) and the size of the font (small) are intimidating, it is an even-paced read and the story moves quickly. There are beautiful sentences and humour sprinkled throughout the book. I loved the historical references and the way Susanna Clarke weaves fact with fiction. I was particularly interested in the Duke of Wellington who commands the English army in the peninsular war. When I discovered that his second name was Wellesley, my curiosity was piqued, because there was a British governor general in India during colonial times called Wellesley and I wondered whether it was the same person or whether they had a connection. (My dad is a big fan of the governor general because of the way he developed public infrastructure in India. I discovered that the Duke of Wellington was Arthur Wellesley and he was the younger brother of the Governor General Richard Wellesley. Quite interesting!) I also loved the scenes where some of the other real life characters made an appearance in the book. There is a scene which describes the meetings between Lord Byron, Percy and Mary Shelley and Doctor Polidori, during which Polidori is supposed to have written the first ever vampire story and Mary Shelley wrote ‘Frankenstein’ and read it out. Many nice things happen at the end, but the ending is also open-ended and all the loose ends are not tied up. There is a promise of happiness but that lies outside the time-period of the story, there are some surprises which make the reader happy and there are some problems which are still unresolved. It makes one wonder whether a sequel was planned and one can’t resist pondering what happened to that. I would be particularly interested in whether the Raven King makes a longer appearance (someone who is probably the Raven King makes a brief appearance in the third volume) and whether Strange is able to solve the eternal night problem.
Many thanks to Delia from Postcards from Asia for co-hosting this readalong with me and for inspiring me to read this book. Many thanks to all the participants for joining in the fun.
Here are the links to the thoughts on the third volume by the other participants of the readalong :