Saturday, October 21, 2006

introducing something strange

In this era when we see children carrying books bigger than their heads, the most evident downside of it is that we seldom see the “us” category bringing these things that are either thick or thin in covering and have tiny letters, numbers, and sometimes a few illustrations in their content (what are they called again?) unlike our younger generation.

It is easy to say that these children have caught the “reading bug” as they grew up totally exposed to things we have not. Clichéd as it may sound but that’s the hard fact. Books would just scream “Come Over Here! Buy Me!” in time passing. Let's warm-up our reading skills. I think all of the “us” category should be cultured in the wonders of literature. The book is entitled, “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell” by Susanna Clarke.

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Set in the early 19th-century Britain, English folklore and fantasy blended well in this extraordinary novel of two magicians who attempt to reinstate English magic in the age of Napoleon. In a common world imagined by Susanna Clarke, old Britain is never seen in a different kind of view even in the presence of notable obscurities. It seemed that magic itself is instinctive to the setting. Talking stones, whispering leaves, and moving grounds are not at all surreal but natural.

When gentlemen scholars only pore over England’s magical history, which is ruled by the Raven King - a mysterious man who mastered magic from the lands of faerie, the study is highly academic there’s no application at all, until Mr. Norrell, an arrogant and mistrustful bookworm surface. He showed that he is capable of creating magic and was verified when he showed the society speaking statues! Suddenly, he became the cream of the crop. From this event to the creation of English ships out of rainwater to block the incoming French colony, Norrell became the government’s prized icon.

Suddenly, a person in the name of Jonathan Strange enters the scene. Overly impulsive at such a young age, this aristocrat finds himself in the same practice of magic too under none other than Mr. Norrell himself.

Being the first student in his valuable library of forgotten and rare books, Norrell shared Jonathan his knowledge of the craft but totally not everything, afraid that someone would take over his throne of fame. Jonathan still learned voraciously.

In my favorite scene where Jonathan and Mr. Norrell debated, the younger magician finds himself unable to accept Norrell's tight views of magic he sets out of Norrell’s apprenticeship and creates a new approach on magic all by himself. Mr. Norrell on the other hand focused his attention to the government’s pleadings of assistance. He disregarded the thought of Strange’s backfiring actions towards him for he had not wholly taught him powerful magic. And this he is wrong.

Jonathan Strange with his vengeance of edging out the cleverness of Mr. Norrell tried everything that he thought would topple Mr. Norrell from his pride. Through many circumstances, both of them ended in a way that they are not ought to. Discovering morale from their own actions, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell still wanted to resolve the intricacy of magic. So, I would not further mention any more details for I might spoil the occasional or curios reader in wanting to read the novel.

In the author’s part, Clarke is superbly pertinent in showing magic as both a believably multifaceted and tiresome labor. Disregarded pieces of conversations would later on be very crucial in the latter part. The system of politics where magic is involved is portrayed with seamless realism and unquestionably part of the same England! Written in an old-fashioned narrative way with an addition of lengthy footnotes (that could occupy one page!) to fill in the uninformed reader events on the history of magic may even seem useless at first, reveals that reading it is worth the price when reaching to the last few pages of the novel.

To those who would attempt to grab a copy of this book, just take this heed of warning: If you are the type who only reads something of the fantasy-kind that involves delirious waving of wands, dragons that breathe fire, handsome elves and beautiful faeries, band of assorted creatures treading dangerous territories, and where words of enchantments began at the very first sentence of chapter one, then you better leave this book alone, shun it in a corner, and forget it altogether. This is not for you.

This book is unique in its genre not just that the presence of magic shows up only after hundreds of pages, but in its capability of engrossing a reader its 1000-page being! One could never notice that it is actually that long. It is a masterpiece that can be enjoyed in lazy afternoons with your favorite beverage on one hand and the book on your lap while lounging comfortably in your seat.

Susanna Clarke said boredom is probably the reason she wrote this book. “I could always imagine more interesting places to be than where I was and more interesting people than me being there. Eventually this led to making up stories and writing things down,” she said in an interview in the book’s official website. She also added, “I always really liked magicians. I’m not even sure why — except that they know things other people don’t…”

Like a character in the book had said: "Magic! Do not speak to me of magic! It is just like everything else, full of setbacks and disappointments." That’s a very essential statement. It means that though some results looks either superbly beautiful or wretched, you never know how taxingly it was done.

Indeed, the mastery of Clarke’s ability to weave the appropriate words made her even a more competent writer in this debut novel. It is a book where you stop over a line and read it once more or let its effect seep deeper into you for a while, whether out of admiration of the effectiveness of its brevity, of simple awe, or of its intelligent wit. From a span of ten years in developing this one-of-a-kind novel, this turned out as an instant classic to readers worldwide. A historical fictional novel at its best – for now.

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