Monday, January 3, 2011

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: a Love Letter

Don't worry, I'm not going to use the direct address. No odes here. But I am going to use this opportunity to talk about some of the many things I love about this book.
Why I love the cover:
I like the striking black and cream, and the simplicity of the design.

I especially like the starkness of the raven.

I love the font. I love the unevenness of it. I love the sharp point on the second stem of the N. I love the sweeping tail of the R. I love the asymmetrical slants on the beaks of the T. (Sorry if the terminology is confusing. Just look at the T and how it is asymmetrical, you'll see what I mean.)

And I love how well the odd, antiquated feel of the cover goes with the content.
Which brings us to...

Why I love the novel:

Pacing. This book doesn't rush; it takes its time revealing character, setting, system of magic, and story. There are footnotes. But by the end, I was utterly gripped. I stayed up until 4 in the morning to finish this book.

True unpredictability. I really enjoy not knowing what will happen, and the events of this book are truly original.

Love of books. It's a pervasive theme throughout the novel, and (of course) it rings deeply true for me.

Atmosphere. Victorian, gloomy, and mystical. Reminds me of the art of Arthur Rackham - check out this site and particularly, this image.

"Getting the magic right." When I read a fantasy book, one of my criteria for rating the book is the system of magic: is it well-conceived? Is it consistent? Essentially, is it believable?

Well, the system of magic in this book is well-conceived and believable, but for me it goes one step beyond that. When I read this book, there's a part of my brain that goes "Yeah! That's how real magic is!" It's much like I feel when I read a book with a child character, and the child character actually behaves like a child. I think "Hey, they got it right! That's what a kid would really do." Well...apparently I believe in magic, and apparently I believe that real magic is structured the way it's structured in Jonathan Strange.

Which is funny, because if you were to ask me, "Hey, Kate, if magic is real, what's it like?" I would describe something completely different. I would maybe have cited "Poison Study" or "The Name of the Wind." But neither of those books rings true for me the way Jonathan Strange does.

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