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TWO  MINUTE REVIEW: Johnathan Strange and Mr. Norell (Read 177 times)
Gary A. Markette
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TWO  MINUTE REVIEW: Johnathan Strange and Mr. Norell
Nov 05th, 2015, 3:04pm
 
I'm not sure what to say about this well-written, somewhat overlong, comedy of manners. I read the book and listened to the recording on CD and liked them both well enough. The prose is strong, if a bit too British. The story swings from mildly interesting to compelling back to mildly interesting throughout its nearly 1000 pages. It never gets dull, but it never inspires either. The magic involved rarely surprises and occasionally frustrates. The tone smacks more of Dickens than Rowling and the characters . . .

Ah, the characters.

I want to like Johnathan Strange; I really do. He comes into the story a bit late--the first part of the book focuses more on Gilbert Norrell--and Strange never quite becomes the protagonist the reader expects. The author tries to paint him as arrogant, but succeeds only in making him look incompetent and misguided.  He's bland almost to the point of dullness until late in the book when he goes through significant torment and effort to save his wife. Norrell is another story. Him I want to dislike; but he's such an inexpressible geek, nerd, whatever, that I can't. He strikes me as a spiteful, spoiled brat who, surprisingly, has a good heart. He is easily misguided by others and, thus, never descends to true villainy.

The secondary characters are more interesting and better defined. Strange's wife is sweet and supportive and far beyond anything the protagonist deserves. Steven Black is the best character in the novel and, while the story dwells too much on his color, its focus on his personality is spot on (to steal a Britishism). Childermas, Vinculus, and John Uskglass are fascinating and help drive the story.

The book is lengthy. The book is slow. But the book is well worth your time. I favored audio book over the text, principally because the book is large and unwieldy. It would have worked better in two or even three separate volumes. Get it at your library and set aside about 45 minutes per night to enjoy it.
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