Friday, September 30, 2005

I love this book

The one I am reading that is -Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I think it is not for everyone but it is definitely my kind of book. The humour is subtle, almost hidden, so light you might miss it. I find it hard to describe. It is like a shadow that flits in and out of the narrative. I find the writing to be similar to books written in the 1800's and I expect the author meant to have this effect. She succeeds very well. Mr Norell is revivng magic in England but he is very jealous of his position. Jonathan Strange is another magician of talent who becomes his protege but it appears that the student might outdo the teacher (they eventually they have a falling out). A synopsis, however lengthy, couldn't give you as much of the flavour of the book as can an excerpt. So I will copy a segment -abridged slightly- from about the middle of the book at a point in the story where Jonathan Strange is helping Wellington fight Napoleon.

Strange was in some anxiety lest Mr,. Norrell get to hear of the magic he had done at the ruined church at Flores de Avila . He made no comment of it in his own letters and he begged Lord Wellington to leave it out of his dispatches.

Oh, very well” said his lordship. Lord Wellington was not in any case particularly fond of writing about magic. He disliked having to deal with anything he did not understand extremely well. “But it will do very little good,” he pointed out. “Every man that has written a letter home in the last five days will have given his friends a very full account of it.”

“I know, “ said Strange, uncomfortably, “but the men always exaggerate what I do and perhaps by the time people in England have made allowances for the usual embellishments it will not appear so very remarkable. They will merely imagine that I healed some Neapolitans that were wounded or something of that sort.”

The raising of the seventeen dead Neapolitans was a good example of the sort of problem faced by Strange in the latter half of the war. Like the Ministers before him, Lord Wellington was becoming more accustomed to using magic to achieve his ends and he demanded increasingly elaborate spells from his magician. However, unlike the Ministers, Wellington had very little time or inclination for listening to long explanations of why a thing was not possible. After all he regularly demanded the impossible of his engineers, his generals and his officers and he saw no reason to make an exception of his magician.....

In the early summer of 1813 Strange again performed a sort of magic that had not been done since the days of the Raven King: he moved a river...The new position of the river so baffled the French that several French companies when ordered to march north, went in entirely the wrong direction so convinced were they that the direction away from the river must be north....Lord Wellington later remarked cheerfully to General Picton that there was nothing so wearing for troops and horses as constant marching about and that in future he thought it would be better to keep them all standing still while Mr. Strange moved Spain about like a carpet beneath them. Meanwhile the Spanish Regency Council in Cadiz became rather alarmed at this development and began to wonder whether, when they regained their country from the French, they would recognize it.They complained to the Foreign Secretary ( which many people thought ungrateful). The Foreign Secretary persuaded Strange to write the Regency Council a letter promising that after the war he would replace the river in its original position...

pp 334 335

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Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Romania.
Dorothy Parker, Not So Deep as a Well (1937)