• Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

  • By: Susanna Clarke
  • Narrated by: Simon Prebble
  • Length: 32 hrs and 29 mins
  • 4.3 out of 5 stars (10,252 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

English magicians were once the wonder of the known world, with fairy servants at their beck and call; they could command winds, mountains, and woods. But by the early 1800s they have long since lost the ability to perform magic. They can only write long, dull papers about it, while fairy servants are nothing but a fading memory.

But at Hurtfew Abbey in Yorkshire, the rich, reclusive Mr. Norrell has assembled a wonderful library of lost and forgotten books from England's magical past and regained some of the powers of England's magicians. He goes to London and raises a beautiful young woman from the dead. Soon he is lending his help to the government in the war against Napoleon Bonaparte, creating ghostly fleets of rain-ships to confuse and alarm the French.

All goes well until a rival magician appears. Jonathan Strange is handsome, charming, and talkative, the very opposite of Mr. Norrell. Strange thinks nothing of enduring the rigors of campaigning with Wellington's army and doing magic on battlefields. Astonished to find another practicing magician, Mr. Norrell accepts Strange as a pupil. But it soon becomes clear that their ideas of what English magic ought to be are very different. For Mr. Norrell, their power is something to be cautiously controlled, while Jonathan Strange will always be attracted to the wildest, most perilous forms of magic. He becomes fascinated by the ancient, shadowy figure of the Raven King, a child taken by fairies who became king of both England and Faerie, and the most legendary magician of all. Eventually Strange's heedless pursuit of long-forgotten magic threatens to destroy not only his partnership with Norrell, but everything that he holds dear.

Sophisticated, witty, and ingeniously convincing, Susanna Clarke's magisterial novel weaves magic into a flawlessly detailed vision of historical England. She has created a world so thoroughly enchanting that 32 hours leave readers longing for more.

©2004 Susanna Clarke (P)2004 Audio Renaissance, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishers, LLC, and Bloomsbury Publishing

Critic Reviews

  • Hugo Award Winner, Best Novel, 2005
  • World Fantasy Award Winner, 2005
  • Audie Award Finalist, Literary Fiction, 2005

"A smashing success....An exceptionally compelling, brilliantly creative, and historically fine-tuned piece of work." (Booklist)
"Extraordinary....Immersion in the mesmerizing story reveals its intimacy, humor, and insight, and will enchant readers of fantasy and literary fiction alike." (Publishers Weekly)
"Ravishing...superb...combines the dark mythology of fantasy with the delicious social comedy of Jane Austen into a masterpiece of the genre that rivals Tolkien." (Time)
"Clarke welcomes herself into an exalted company of British writers - not only, some might argue, Dickens and Austen, but also the fantasy legends Kenneth Grahame and George MacDonald - as well as contemporary writers like Susan Cooper and Philip Pullman." (The New York Times Book Review)

What listeners say about Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Best Listen In a Long Time

I never take the time to review the books I listen to off audible unless they are terrible or amazing, this one is amazing. There are other decent reviews of the plot, similar authors etc. so I will just hit two points:

1. The narration is excellent, it is saying something when a deep voiced man can accurately portray a female character with nuance and feeling and bring tears to my hard heart.

2. The massive detail and interesting footnotes make for a long book and for 80% of it's progress one is left interested but not knowing what it is all about. I consider this more of an asset than a defect but if you need everything spelled out for you and good and bad guys assigned clearly it may be frustraiting. It is not ADD friendly, it reads like it was written by someone who loves to read intricate books not someone who wanted a simple plot so it would make a easy screenplay (tho it is being made into a film anyway). As a result if you do not get past that 80% mark you are missing out on a real gem.

In closing this was an excellent listen, if you like the fantasy work of Ursula K. LeGuin (the books, not the worthless tv show) chances are you will love it.

128 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Hang in there!

Both of the following are true: 1) This is a very good book; and 2) That fact is not obvious for about the first eight hours of the audio version. It starts very slowly, reading much like Jane Austen with magicians (though not as funny as Austen). But after a while, the plot really takes off, and it becomes an aborbing, even gripping, "read". Alas, it may have lost many listeners by that point; it nearly lost me! I don't think it's particularly well served by the audiobook format, since in text one can easily skim ahead if things are moving too slowly. I ended up doing something similar with the audiobook: I'd listen at night, with a sleep timer, and not worry too much about backing up if I fell asleep and missed fifteen or thirty minutes here or there.

My advice: Hang in there! There's a great novel in store, if you can make it through the opening.

218 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

A delightful and unique book

What did you love best about Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell?

I am not a professional reviewer. I'm a writer. Beyond that, I appreciate works for what they are and what they're trying to be. If I review a book, I will probably give it a five-star review. This is because the books that I don’t enjoy enough to give five stars--or the books that I don’t finish--I won’t end up reviewing, simply out of professional courtesy to my colleagues in the business. Elitist Book Reviews will give more balanced reviews, whereas my reviews are not intended to be balanced. They are intended to talk about the book, what I like about it, and maybe some of the things that annoyed me. But at the end of the day, if I finished the book, then it deserves a good rating in my opinion.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell – I found this book delightful even though I didn’t really expect to. In fact, during the first third of the book, I was convinced that I was going to end up putting it down. It was just too slow, though the slowness wasn’t really as big an issue as it sounds because Susanna Clarke’s prose is wonderful.

It feels like the best mix of regency and modern with a slight sarcasm to it and a very keen sense of ambiance and world-building. The footnotes are great, and the whole thing just works together masterfully prose-wise, but the character--particularly Mr. Norrell at the beginning--was just so unengaging that despite the nice prose and world-building, I was having trouble getting through the book.

The fact that it was an audio book--and that the narrator is so fantastic--really pushed me through this. Once I arrived at Jonathan Strange's viewpoint, I found him more dynamic and more interesting. Though the pacing of the book only increased a little bit, the natural wonder and whimsy of the language was able to take center stage, and I found myself thoroughly enjoying the book.

By the ending, I was happy I had finished listening to the novel. I think it is somewhat unique as a piece, and is a wonderful read, particularly in audio book. The ending left me a little disappointed, but this is really relating to characterization, and I don’t want give any spoilers. The characters are very well-drawn; they're just not always the people that I wish they could be.

I make a special note of the side characters. To a person I found them very interesting and a highlight of the book. I thought that Childermass was particularly a fun, complicated, and interesting character. Overall, I really enjoyed this book, but I do have to reiterate what a lot of people said. It is slow. It is a book about the language and the setting, not a book about character and thought.

83 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Wonderful

This book is a delight. It's a wonderful combination of wit, sentiment, fantasy, and a reference back to the great literature of the past. A truly adult fantasy where "adult" means literary merit and intelligence, not sexuality. I read it some years ago and liked it but decided to listen to it again. I found the listening experience even better than reading it. A great narrator and a fine, fine book. I also recommend Clarke's "The Ladies of Grace Adieu", set in the same world as "Strange and Norell". I just wish she'd write another book soon, I can't wait.

13 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

A Great Book I Didn't Like

Literature majors have to read a huge cross section of writing. Hopefully, at one time or another, they will learn that there are books out there that have every reason to be great works, but they just don't like them.

JS&MN is like that for me. I listened to the book twice, to give it a fair listening. When I was done my conclusion was that some books were, in fact, written to be read, not read aloud. The need to fall to foot notes or appendices for some given information would often break train of thought. This wouldn't happen while you were actually reading. Don't get me wrong, it does fit the genre and time period, it was just hard for me to sometimes stay in a slower section when some note came up about someone who is, perhaps, mentioned only in passing. Also the transition between one passage and the other isn't clear cut in a reading. For me, at the beginning, two of the characters, Black and Strange, get hard to separate.

Now, my whining aside, the book is an excellent choice. Ms. Clarke does a wonderful job at keeping faithful to the English arrogance of the era. You have to understand that it was just something that they expected, everything English was superior, from education to their society. Who wouldn't want to be English? But just when it is easy to become complacent, she sneaks a twist at the end that isn't shocking but unexpected.

If you are a listener who sits down to place your entire attention on a book, I cannot suggest JS&MN more. If, like me, you find yourself doing other things while you listen, this book might be one of those you have to stop and back up, to listen to something you missed.

The reading was superior, and I've heard a few that were not so I know. His inflection and rhythm are what a listener expects in a novel about England at the time of Napoleon. The casual air of assumed superiority in every situation was fantastic. In the future I will look up books based on their being read by Mr. Prebble.

76 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Superb!

Loved sinking into the story, the twists and turns. Dickensian in some ways, fascinating! Read wonderfully well by Mr. Prebble.

7 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Not what I was Expecting

I don't know if I would have finished this if I was reading an actual book. I love the idea of the story, and the details, but got bogged down in all of the minutiae. The footnotes were amusing, and the narrator did a wonderful job.

In the end, I was not disappointed that I listed to it, but I am not as much of a fan as others are.

7 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Magic and Meaning

This is one of the best downloads I've heard. Susanna Clarke has hit a home run. The universe of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell is a strangely dark and disquieting one. The people are a complex mixture of good, evil and indifference and who is to know the difference. The musings about the Raven King and his role in the world echo theological arguments that entangle the great minds of today. She couches great themes in small events. Language has been well served in this book. A delight to listen to.

50 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

A gorgeous novel that redefines fantasy

Though I've given other audible books 5 stars, after listening to this one, I realize they deserved only 3 or 4. Set in seventeenth century England this story is lushly peopled with servants, kings, magicians and lunatics. Though "magic" is a central theme of the book, the fantastical is so seamlessly interwoven with real historical figures and events that it is hard to tell fact from fiction. I warn that the first hours of the book are difficult. Though Clarke writes beautifully, the barrage of characters introduced are hard to keep straight, and can feel disorienting. Nonetheless, after setting the stage, the story pulls you in and under. Don't miss one of the best novels in Audible's library.

113 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Long, involved, and slow but immersive & worth it

This audiobook requires a considerable time investment, and its scene building and dialogue mimic and appropriate styles from 18th and 19th century novels like those of Austen and Dickens. You don't have to have a burning passion for those types of novels to enjoy this book, nor do you have to be particularly adept at parsing out the oftentimes dense prose of such novels either. Prebble's narration does a wonderful job of bringing out the verbal fencing between characters complete with nuances in emphasis and tone that make the dialogue engrossing to listen to, probably more so than the textual version for those who are not savvy readers of the types of novel Clarke's work emulates. The book has plenty of magic, but it's presented in a fairly matter of fact way at times, i.e. this book would not be a summer action blockbuster with a huge special effects budget. The plot develops slowly, which may be frustrating to some readers. It's a very English book that has a lot to do about Englishness, particularly in the early 19th century as England became the predominant military power in Europe with the defeat of Napoleon. If you are an anglophile, like me, or if you really like novels like those of Dickens or Austen, then you should find a lot to love in this novel even if you are not a big reader of fantasy or books about magic. Even if you are not familiar with those genres or are not much into those authors, this audiobook is a very accessible way to get into this novel.

That is my disclaimer for anyone on the bubble about whether or not to give this book a try. I personally found the book to be a wonderful mix of styles: 18th/19th century novels, historical and alternative historical writing, fairy tale and myth, magic and early modernity, and elements of the Gothic just to give it a sense of the ominous. Clarke has written a book that really is so much a wonderful mix that it becomes its own thing. The characters are well developed over the long course of the book. The magic is presented in an interesting way as it is supplemented with footnotes and explanations of the myths and alternative histories that underlie its workings and history, making the scholarship of magic that the characters study feel believable and rich. The story is slow to develop, but by the time the climax comes around you feel like you have lived with these characters and keenly feel their desires and their fears.

A very enjoyable book and an indispensable narration by Prebble.

6 people found this helpful

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  • Dr. Swijghuisen Reigersberg
  • 02-26-22

Magical Story upon History of English Magic

The narration is very faithful to the book and well done by the reader who has to portray a number of characters with different accents and personalities.

Because the book deliberately makes use of academic-style footnotes, the narration includes these too. I quite like that, but others may find it distracts them from the narrative.

The story weaves smidgens of fairy lore, art and religion in with mysticism, and the history of England and other parts of the UK and Europe. It's a great read and listen!

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Rachel Affleck
  • 02-02-22

Magical Mystery!

Wonderfully engaging, magical mystery story. Loved the characters, given depth by excellent narrator. Highly recommended.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 02-20-22

enjoyable

beautifully read. worth the long listen. good story. good that the footnotes were read too.