On Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

Jenny Davidison has an interesting review of Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell in n+1.

“Like something from a fairy tale, three farfetched things had to happen before an 800-page literary fantasy by a British first-time novelist in her forties could shoot to the top of the bestseller lists. First, the success of the Harry Potter books gave credence to the idea that fantasy novels could be purchased by adults with no history of lurking in the sword-and-sorcery aisles at Barnes and Noble. Second, the internet matured as a place where serious readers and writers evaluate books and make recommendations to other readers. Since January, the comic-book writer, best-selling novelist, and influential blogger Neil Gaiman has praised Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell repeatedly, and partly as a result Clarke’s novel became a top-ten bestseller on Amazon more than a month before publication, with bound galleys reportedly fetching as much as $200 on eBay. The novel also made the Man Booker long-list in England, where the bookmaker William Hill now lists Jonathan Strange as the third favorite, just behind David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas and Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty.

One other condition remained, of course: the novel had to live up to its hype. And it does. Set in a version of early 19th-century England whose history reeks of magic, the novel recounts the numerous adventures of two rival magicians, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, who try to revive magic in an England threatened by Napoleon from abroad and by social and political unrest at home.”