Lately I became very fond of static pictures in my reviews. This book will have none. It deserves a very serious discussion and I feel the inclusion of pictures would provide a distraction from such.
The best description of the book would be the following. Suppose Charles Dickens and Jane Austen had a love child – a daughter. A publisher was so thrilled by this that he promised to pay for a novel written by the daughter for each written word. The latter realized it would be a good time to take care of the retirement money. This is the result.
Imagine going through an art museum. In every room you see easy on the eyes gorgeous paintings. After a while you realize the pictures are kind of the same in each room. A little after this you realize you might not have to go to the next room as you know what to expect from it, but you still struggle on. Your feet start hurting because of the distance you walked, but you still struggle on. A little after this you wish one of the visitors would stumble. You do not want for anything bad happen to this person; you just want for something to happen. You wish one of the paintings would fall down. You do not want a destruction of a priceless piece of art; you just want for something to happen. Still you struggle on and on.
The plot is slow. “Dying snail” does not even begin to describe the pace. I looked through a few reviews of the novel and practically none of them mentioned any details of the plot. Do you know why? It is because even two-line description would give away at least 75% of the book which in this case means around 700 pages. I do not think it feels slow because we became used to faster-moving stories in literature; I recalled the works of the two British classics I mentioned in the beginning of the review and the pace of the plot in the majority of their books makes them feel like cheetah compared to this one. Oh, did I mention the plot is very slow?
If you need proof of this, I can give you complete spoiler and tell about everything what happened in the whole 900 pages in just four short sentences. Do not believe me? Magic used to big a big part of life in Great Britain, but now it is practically forgotten. One person is determined to bring it back. He takes an apprentice. They start having disagreements about magic practicing.
I swear I did not skip any major events in my spoiler.
Footnotes deserve a special mention. There are quite a few of them. Some of them are several pages long. While they do interrupt the smooth flow of the tale, especially considering its length I did not mind them. It actually has been a while since I saw large quantity of lengthy footnotes in the modern fiction. I strongly suspect the popularity of ebooks would kill them off eventually.
I feel like a have schizophrenia while trying to say what I think about this book. One of my personalities really liked it. Another one got bored fairly quickly. This never happened to me before.
Mr. Norrell is not convincing as a character. He too seems to have schizophrenia (this particular mental disorder seems to be a recurring theme in my review). One moment he is a sly trickster who managed to disband the whole Magician Society of York simply because he feels like it and another he is a shy introvert who is completely lost at a high class ball and who decides to hide himself in a dark corner not to be in a way of anybody. This example comes from the beginning of the book, but such behavior is typical for him thorough the whole story. He simply acts in any way the plot demands at the moment.
Jonathan Strange feels more alive and it is no wonder the book became a little more exciting after his appearance. I never bothered to care about Mr. Norrell, but Jonathan Strange was at least interesting to follow around. Too bad he only appeared after one third of the tale.
I would like to mention the subplot of the gentleman with thistle-down hair has a very strong resemblance to some scenes of The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, so I refer the people who liked that part to the excellent timeless classic by the Russian author.
Speaking about characters I felt completely cold to all of them. I did not hate anybody, I did not care about anybody either. This left me as a dispassionate observer and not as a reader overcame by any kind of emotions. I really could not care less about what would happen to anybody, one way or the other.
I would really like to mention something else, something not exactly politically correct. There is not a single woman in the book who can be called strong by any stretch of imagination. It did not prevent it from receiving a truckload of literary awards proving you do not absolutely need to have a strong woman in a book for it to be good. Still for people who want to have such characters: avoid this one.
I can completely understand people who gave this one 5 stars. I can completely understand people who gave it 1 star. These two ratings seem to be the most common ones. I am going to be original in not following the opinions of the majority and give it the average of these: 3 stars. I hope I was able to explain the reason for my rating adequately. It is highly appropriate as for me 3 stars mean a good book which I will not reread. In this case I will not reread it even if somebody paid me for doing this; there are some things I will not do for any money – I have some principles after all – and this is one of them.