Read Along – ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell’ by Susanna Clarke – Volume II (Jonathan Strange)

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This read along is hosted by Vishy over at Vishy’s Blog and Delia over at Postcards from Asia.

“Can a magician kill a man by magic?” Lord Wellington asked Strange.

     Strange frowned. He seemed to dislike the question. “I suppose a magician might”, he admitted, “but a gentleman never could”.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke, Pg.389

So this week has been rather busy and I have found it quite difficult to reach the deadline for this read along. However, I did finally make it to the end of Volume II just this evening and my first thought on finishing was one of shock. I now instantly want to read on into Volume III, which is interestingly named after The Raven King himself – John Uskglass. Will Jonathan Strange reunite with Mr Norrell in order to defeat the wicked fairy with the thistle-down hair? Will John Uskglass return in person (through some magical means)? Will Stephen Black and Lady Pole return to normality? And how will the state of English magic fair by the end of the novel?

‘”He says he hopes that the Raven King will soon be forgot”, said Strange in amazement. “What do you make of that? A magician who hopes the Raven King will soon be forgot! If the Archbishop of Canterbury were discovered to be working secretly to suppress all knowledge of the Trinity, it would make as much sense to me”‘.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke, Pg.291

But before I think about these questions I feel I should reflect on what has already happened. Volume II begins with the unlikely pairing of Mr Norrell and Jonathan Strange. Contrary to popular belief, Mr Norrell is delighted to find another magician in England; one that he can tutor and teach to his tastes. It is clear, though, that Mr Norrell does not entirely trust Strange at first. He painstakingly removes any dangerous books on magic to his Yorkshire library so that Strange cannot get his hands on them. It is also clear that Strange does not entirely agree with Mr Norrell’s beliefs about magic. Their partnership, right from the very beginning, is fragile and liable to break at any moment. This does, inevitably happen, and surprisingly (touchingly) offers a glimpse into how much they relied on each other for company as the only two practicing magicians in England.

One of the most decisive moments in the novel, for me, was when Strange joined the British army in Portugal to fight the war against France. The fact that he was away from Mr Norrell’s tight leash meant that he could finally come into his own a bit more. He certainly proves himself as a very talented and powerful magician, dare I say more so than Mr Norrell? It was also quite humorous to read about the physical and geographical changes Strange makes to the country in order for the British army to gain the advantage (in the second war against France Strange ends up moving the whole of Belgium to America!). A sly interjection by the narrator tells us that he never does put the country back to its original state after the war, despite the promise that he will. Although a very competent magician, his absent-mindedness is apparent here in a comical way, but it does comes back to haunt him towards the end of the volume.

Another instance that really struck me with Jonathan Strange was when he went to visit George III who had been suffering from bouts of madness. At the behest of the King’s relatives, Strange tries to see if he can cure his illness using magic. This passage is striking because we witness the power Strange has to defend against fairy magic. I suspect that Strange is probably a lot more powerful than even he knows yet. His magic appears more intuitive than Mr Norrell’s, who is bogged down in reading books of magic. However, towards the end of Volume II his character seems to merge with that of Norrell. After coming back from defeating the French a second time, Strange becomes obsessed with writing a book of magic (three volumes to be precise). So much so that he is completely oblivious to what is happening around him. The complete absorption of his interest in this book is similar to the obsession Norrell has with reading books. Though, I suppose, one clear distinction that can be made between the two is that Strange takes it upon himself to do and act rather than sit around twiddling his thumbs.

I look forward to delving into the third and final volume but I do still feel like I am waiting to be mesmerised by the story of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. Hopefully the ending will prove itself to be worthwhile!

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8 Replies to “Read Along – ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell’ by Susanna Clarke – Volume II (Jonathan Strange)”

  1. I think we all enjoyed reading about the magic Strange did for Wellington during the wars. I agree that Strange seems to be more intuitive when it comes to experimenting with his magic. I wonder whether his ability to walk into mirrors will come up again in Volume III. I do hope Clarke will be able to pull all the pieces into a cohesive story in the last part; at the moment I feel like it’s all still a little disjointed. Now I am off to tackle the last chapter in Volume II. After reading your review, I HAVE to know what is so shocking.

  2. Great review, Yasmine, it looks like we’re wondering about the same things. 🙂
    I’m glad you managed to finish the second chapter and I agree with you, what an ending!
    The book is getting better, isn’t it? I find Norrell annoying, and I like Strange a lot better.
    That Fairy is even more annoying than Norrell, I wonder what his purpose really is. I guess I’d better read faster to find out. 🙂

    1. I am definitely enjoying the novel more but I still feel like it is quite slow paced. I just wonder how Clarke will pull all the pieces together in the final volume!

  3. Wonderful post, Yasmine! I liked very much what you said about Jonathan Strange being intuitive and Norrell being bookish and how inspite of that, Strange starts resembling Norrell in the end by losing himself inside a book. Moving Belgium to America and then putting it back, but not in the exact way it was, is really interesting and in some ways funny. The shocking ending – I am not there yet, so thanks for not revealing the spoiler. Hope you enjoy reading volume 3. Happy reading!

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