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Author Topic: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell
Cashew
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I'm still plowing my way through this book, on OSC's recomendation only, no real other reason. I got excited around page 544 when something looked like it was actually going to happen, but it seems to have fizzled out by page 600. I can't quite give it up for a lost cause, but it's the kind of book that I can happily put down for days at a time without a problem. I'm pretty determined to get through it.
Anybody read it?

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Uprooted
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There are lots of fans here--I don't happen to be one of them. I didn't even get as far as you did. I asked my best friend (who absolutely loved it, and who also knows me pretty well), "So, Carrie, if I don't love this book yet and don't really care what happens to anybody in it, do you think that's going to change if I keep reading?" She said probably not, so I took that for permission to put it down.
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Cashew
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I think you'be hit the nail on the head. I care a only a little about what might happen to the characters, enough to keep reading though. What is bothering me is how long she's taking for that to happen.
There are things I really like: the basic premise, the cleverness of the writing, the mannered approach to the story. I guess the biggest frustration is that there doesn't seem to be much of a plot, just a series of only vaguely connected social contacts between characters, with the faint hint that at some stage (page 800? page 950?) these will resolve into something.
At this stage I will keep reading, but it feels like just finishing for the sake of it.

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TomDavidson
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There is in fact a plot. But if you're reading for plot, you're reading the wrong book.
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Cashew
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You're right Tom, maybe I need to let go of plot, and read for the other things that I am enjoying.
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Rakeesh
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I just had fun reading it...difficult to pin down why, really. Probably a blend of dialogue and setting and wit, I think. But I do remember things happened quite slowly.
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Tante Shvester
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I read, and enjoyed, Strange and Norrell very much. I even bought it as a gift for a bookworm client. I liked it more for the language than for the plot.

I read it just after finishing "The Eyre Affair", and for a while I was thinking all my thoughts with footnotes.*


* footnotes feature prominently in both books

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Narnia
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I just loved the footnotes in Strange and Norrell.

How hilarious that you finally got interested at around page 500. I tell everyone that they have to read at least 550 pages before they give up. [Smile] I enjoyed the book, but it's hard to put my finger on why. It was deliciously creepy and otherworldly, and I was really comfortable with her writing style. *shrug* I still can't explain it.

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Gwen
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I enjoyed the book while I was reading it, but almost all the way through the story kept feeling like it was background to what was *really* going to happen. Since I had had the same feeling all the way through Frankenstein (which I had just read before starting this one), I wasn't sure if I was imagining it or what. I discovered by the time I got to the end that it was in fact mostly background for what was really going to happen. Didn't make it any less worth reading; I really did enjoy what was going on and especially the discussions of English magic and so on, but I wish I'd known I wasn't going crazy thinking she hadn't quite gotten to the story yet.
I recall one of the chapters felt exactly like it could be cut out of the book and sold as a short (fantasy horror) story, especially since it ended with one of those "ew, creepy" shudder moments. Kinda a weird feeling to get when reading a book, that one of the chapters could be a short story, but there it is.
I heard they're making it into a movie.

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Diana Bailey
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It's a terrific "Victorian" novel...long, complex and wordy. There are wonderful, magic parts and the military bits are great. My son insisted that I read it, and I loved it. Keep going!
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MightyCow
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It's got nice parts, but it expects too much from me. Give me a reason to read. No book should expect the reader to force through 500 pages before it becomes worth reading for its own sake.
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TomDavidson
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quote:
No book should expect the reader to force through 500 pages before it becomes worth reading for its own sake.
The book is worth reading after the first sentence. Only if you read for plot can you claim otherwise.
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Puffy Treat
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The plot does take quite a while to build momentum...but once it does, I realized everything the author had spent time establishing had a very good reason for being there.
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MightyCow
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I don't read only for plot, but I also expect something more than flowery language and general setting. I keep wondering why I'm still reading.

It's good, but it's not mind-blowing good. Whatever it has going for it isn't enough to keep me interested.

I honestly don't see how a plot would take anything away from it.

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Elizabeth
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Tom wrote:
"The book is worth reading after the first sentence. Only if you read for plot can you claim otherwise."

I agree. We are a plot-driven society, these days. I just loved the language. I remember taking forever to finish Dickens, the Brontes, Shakespeare, and many others, simply because I reread passages out of simple adoration of the writing. Tha is how I felt about Jonathan Strange. I have so many images flashing through my brain at this moment, just thinking about that novel.

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Irami Osei-Frimpong
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I was bored to tears. The writing was nice, but I found the characters boring as people and the plot uncompelling. There aren't too many books I commit to read and don't finish, but this is one of them. Middlemarch was close, but the characters were just interesting enough for me to finish.

If I may derail the thread for a moment, I'm reading, "Fabulous Small Jews," by Joseph Epstein as I write this, and I'm enjoying every little story.

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jd2cly60
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I adored the book I fell in love with it. Hell I fell into the world. I think the only other [s]two[/s] three times I've been so seduced by writing was Dune, Ender's Game, and A Game of Thrones.

Basically I agree with what Tom said about the first sentance, just incredible from that moment on. I wanted to hug the book.

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Cashew
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I loved it from the first sentence too, as weird as that may sound given the tone of my first post. I told my wife about how much I was enjoying it, and my daughter who loves Jane Austen. I guess the thing that has been frustrating me has been the fact that it just seems to take so long to do whatever it's doing, so I've lost interest to a degree. I'm still reading, but it'll probably take me a while.
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Bella Bee
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I've been meaning to read it for ages, especially since the first part happens in my town! (the bit with the cathedral and the statues...)

But it's so long! I always keep getting distracted by other books before I reach halfway.

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Narnia
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quote:
Hell I fell into the world.
Exactly how I felt. What a fantastic world.

I probably wouldn't have stuck it out (I'm a plot person), but I was highly motivated by the rave reviews I read here on this very forum. You guys rarely lead me wrong and you didn't in this case either.

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Megan
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I've read it, and found myself in a similar boat to many people here. I did enjoy the language and the setting, but I am primarily driven to read fiction by plot (stories!), so I didn't really start to feel the need to finish the book til things began to pick up in the last bit. Before that, I would read half a chapter-ish, enjoy the language, and then set the book down (sometimes for as much as a week, which is NOT something I typically do). In contrast, when I got near the end, I actually couldn't put it down, and polished off the last...um...quarter or so? of the book in one afternoon.
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Cashew
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Thanks Megan, I'm highly encouraged. [Smile]
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MyrddinFyre
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*is too*

Definitely on my list [Smile]

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theamazeeaz
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I agree. It took me about a year to read the first two hundred pages and two weeks to read the last five hundred.
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John Van Pelt
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I second Tom Davidson, jd2cly60, and theamazeeaz.

My review is here.

The first half was certainly slow-going -- but I was somehow never tempted to give up. It's possible that the more one knows about the true history of the period and the conventions the author is spoofing, the more one will enjoy the 'journey'.

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plaid
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I'm another person who took a while to get through it -- got halfway through it when it first came out, then got distracted and didn't get back to it for a couple years. Finally finished it last month when I got to listen to a great audio version.
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erosomniac
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I finally tried read this stupid book, after having been hounded by many friends and people whose literary opinions I consider better than mine, mostly because it was on sale at B. Dalton for $4.50.

I can't do this. The book is insufferably dull, the characters are unexciting, uninspired and unoriginal, the thematic misspellings are distracting to the point of annoyance. I'm 120 pages in and I highly doubt I will ever revisit it.

What a waste of time.

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Baron Samedi
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quote:
Originally posted by Bella Bee:
I've been meaning to read it for ages, especially since the first part happens in my town! (the bit with the cathedral and the statues...)

But it's so long! I always keep getting distracted by other books before I reach halfway.

You're from York? I was there last summer, and I loved it. That's one thing that got me hooked on that book. I only spent one day in your town (and a few other days in Yorkshire), but reading a story set there really sucked me in. I could just imagine the streets, the buildings and the cathedral as the characters were inhabiting them. By the time the story moved to London I was hooked and unable to stop.

The book reminded me of Yoko Kanno, Tenacious D, or the last album by The Decemberists. It starts off as a pastiche of a beloved genre, and it does it with so much wit and creativity that it ends up matching or beating anything that it's trying to imitate. I was so taken by the depth of the world created by the book that by the time the plot kicked in, it really took me off guard.

It's kind of like Ender's Game or Lost Boys. If the author had wanted to distill the plot down to its essence, it could have been written as a decent short story. But the world created was so realistic and rich in detail that the extra 800 pages it took to tell the story properly were fully justified. In my opinion, of course.

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Shigosei
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I read the book and enjoy it. It's funny--I usually prefer concise, plot-driving stories, but I liked the language, and the footnotes, and hilarious commentary on high society.
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Icarus
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I'm about a quarter of the way through it. It didn't sound like something I'd like, but I'd heard such good things about it, and I found it in hardback on the discount rack for $4.99. I've enjoyed it pretty much from the get-go, and I don't like victorian novels or comedies of manners. It's so brilliantly written! So far, I think of it as an intelligent Terry Pratchet. I find it hard to pick up (because the size is intimidating) and hard to put down (because every sentence is a treasure).
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advice for robots
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I read a good deal of it, and finally got sick of it. Couldn't stand anybody in the book, and the reason it's so long is that the author takes a page to write a sentence. Overblown.
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DevilDreamt
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Wow.... Okay, I was shocked when I picked up War and Peace and found it fascinating.. Again shocked when I found out that Shakespeare is genuinely cool. Probably not fair comparisons, I know.

I handled about 10 pages of Strange and Norrel and gave up, not because it was hard to read, but because I thought it was terribly boring.

I had the same experience with the Once and Future King (Okay, I made it much farther in this book). Interesting, but so slow... I have no idea how I powered through the Lord of the Rings series.

I like long, realistic books, and I am a huge Sci-Fi fan. I thought I was very found of Fantasy, and Strange and Norell seemed like a sure fit for me... and then it wasn't. Who knows?

Lately I find that I prefer Kurt Vonnegut to pretty much anyone.

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BlueWizard
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Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell -

This is usually the type of book I don't like, a Victorian, semi-Gothic, semi-tragic, 'setting/period' piece. I really have trouble reading classsic literature like 'Tale of Two Cities', 'David Copperfield', and many many more. They just drag to the point of grating on my nerves, but I liked 'Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell' even though it is all of those things.

It has a very 'classic' feel to it, and it rambles from scene to apparently unrelated scene, but near the end of the book, all these pieces, all the scenes, all these people are pulled together into something coherent.

Though again, to some extent this is a setting/period piece, so it is more about a time and place in (fictional) history. There aren't any great epic battles or anything like that.

Despite that this book is everything I don't like in a book, it did hold my interest and I found the ending somewhat tragic, but it is not a book with great thrilling highs, and I think that is because it is trying to capture this 'classic' 'Victorian' style of writing which it does well.

In a way, the style of writing itself is part of the story. So, if you are looking for a 'thrill a minute' style of book, this is probably not it. This, again, is more a character, time, and place sort of book.

I'm sure that doesn't help at all, but it is an odd book that is difficult to explain to people, but even the 'oddness' of it is also part of the story.

Steve/BlueWizard

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TomDavidson
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Certainly, Susannah Clarke is almost the anti-Vonnegut.
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ladyday
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After my last book binge I took a solemn vow to buy no more new books for myself until I finished reading all the ones I'd purchased. That was I think two years ago. One of the books I bought was Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

Yeah...I pretty much screwed myself there :\. Luckily for me library books and used books don't count [Smile] .

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kmbboots
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I am having a similar problem. It is fine while I'm reading it. I just don't care enough about these people to need to know what happens to them next. I didn't notice anything particularly noteworthy about the language, but I often read older novels so the style may have escaped my notice.
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TheGrimace
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haven't tried Strange, but am running into about the same issue trying to work my way through Atlas Shrugged... I'm at about p. 450-500 and still am not really that interested in what little plot/character development there has been so far. I want to finish it for the little intrigue it's piqued in me, but getting through the second 450 pages is going to take like a year at this pace. while the writing is in principle good, it reads more like a philosophical treatise than a novel of any normal definition.
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kmbboots
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Because it pretty much is.
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Icarus
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That, ans Atlas Shrugged is unbelievably repetitive. She has to beat the point into your head.

-o-

Wow. Once and Future King was hard to get through? To me it read like a kids' book. (I swear I mean no disrespect by that. I actually mean it as a compliment for Once and Future King, specifically in terms of holding interest and being full of action.) I just can't imagine anybody finding that book hard to plow through.

[ March 26, 2007, 07:38 PM: Message edited by: Icarus ]

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Zalmoxis
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Philistines. What is this plot you speak of?

::goes off to speed read The Golden Bowl::

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TomDavidson
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You know, I think reactions to Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell might be as sure a litmus test for a certain type of personality as someone's response to the first Achewood strip. They might even test for the same kind of person.
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Icarus
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You know, I just don't buy that, Tom. It seems to me that there are so many reasons to like or dislike something, that the overall reaction to one work can't be that telling. It's not the first time you've expressed a similar sentiment, and I found it troublesome the last time too.
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TomDavidson
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How do you feel about the first Achewood strip? And who's your favorite Beatle? [Wink]
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Icarus
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I've never read Achewood--or heard of it.

I don't think I can choose a favorite Beatle.

Except it's not Ringo.

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erosomniac
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Icarus, you're one of a small handful of people I know with that sentiment about the Once & Future King. Personally, I couldn't get past about 200 pages, and those were required for school (medieval history, sophomore year of high school). Most of my friends/classmates had similar problems.

Then again, the school requirement may have been precisely why so many of us had trouble with it.

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Icarus
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*nod* That makes sense.
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TomDavidson
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You read Once and Future King for medieval history? *blink*

I love the book. I'd recommend it to anyone alive. But as a history text...?

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erosomniac
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quote:
Originally posted by TomDavidson:
You read Once and Future King for medieval history? *blink*

I love the book. I'd recommend it to anyone alive. But as a history text...?

It was our teacher's idea of "let's have fun!" at the end of the semester.

Y'know, I think I still have it somewhere. It may be worth trying again, now that that class is seven years removed.

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Liz B
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I got about halfway through The Once and Future King back in high school. I think that's when I decided I didn't like Arthurian fantasy after all.

ladyday, I have a similar rule. I have to read 5 books I already own before I'm allowed to buy a new book. Used books do count...BUT I have a loophole, which is that can just get rid of a book if I decide I don't want to read it. Which may save me, as Strange and Norrell is on my shelf. (It's not really my fault, because one of my students gave it to me!) I tried to start it once, but only gave it about a paragraph. I'll try again sometime, I'm sure.

Why do people think Dickens lacks plot? All you have to do is skip over all of the dull-as-dishwater description, and you're left with a galloping story. I adore Austen. There's TONS of plot in Austen. *confused*

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JennaDean
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quote:
Interesting, but so slow... I have no idea how I powered through the Lord of the Rings series.
I started them about 20 years ago and got bogged down ... only managed to finish them because I swore I'd read them before the movies came out and I had a deadline. I was ultimately glad I did and have read them again since. But the pace is not what I was used to.

Deadlines work wonders. [Smile]

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