Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

Written by Susanna Clarke
Review by Janette King

It’s the year 1807, and magic is virtually dead in England. Self-taught scholars study theory, but no one actually practices the art anymore. No one, that is, until Mr. Norrell decides it’s time to raise the standard of British magic beyond the purely theoretical. Once he’s established himself as the only true magician in England, he discovers there is one other. He agrees to take this new magician, a younger man called Jonathan Strange, as his student.

Norrell and Strange hold different opinions on the practice of magic, for they are very different men. Norrell finds it’s easily within his power to shape Strange’s education by withholding information, since Norrell has, by then, systematically stockpiled almost all of the important magic texts. But this deliberate truncation of his training is something Strange cannot overlook…

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is a wonderful, fascinating book. It’s told in an easy style, reminiscent of the period, exploring the changing relationship of these two magical men. Author Susanna Clarke practices sorcery of her own by persuading her readers that magic could be real even if it isn’t common-place. When Strange announces he will study magic, he’s given the same regard as he might if he were planning to study medicine. But, as with all practical studies, we come to learn that the seemingly boundless power of magic has its limitations… even in expert hands.