Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Book of Johns: 12 books, 12 months #5: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

This is part 5 of my portion of a book review series brought to you by The Latter Day Bohemian via Middle-Aged Woman.

I can't do it. Much as I believe the payoff would be pleasurable, this book is the most difficult to enjoy audio-book I've yet tried.

I own 2 hard copies, so I WILL try again with the bound copies, so I can make mental notes as to the page upon which someone named John appears. That way, when the eleventy-seventh John says something dry and witty, I can remember which effing John it is - or at least page back to figure it out.

8 hours into an approximately 32 hour audio-book, I throw up my hands.

The good: It's a fun capture of regency-era stiffness and linguistic quirks in a parallel universe where magic lurks in the shadows. The bad: the cast of thousands, the interchangeable stuffiness of address, and the footnotes, OH, the footnotes...AAAAAHHH! I can't do it. I drift off into a deaf mental fugue whenever I try to sit and listen. Or jog and listen. Or anything and listen. A few paragraphs into the narration and I'm completely bored AND have to cull my brain to remember if this is the John who wrote the treatise on Magic in Britain, or the John who is the selectman, or the John who is going to marry the fussy Miss R, apprenticed to the fussy magician Mr. Norrell. Or possibly it's the one married to the brought-back-to-life Miss C? And by the time I've figured it out, I've once again lost what may be critical information to the book's plot.

I really like Clarke's voice. But this is a book to be careful over, and my life, full as it is of job, family, and etc. is not allowing the careful, note-taking reading required.

My vote: A- for Clarke (I don't care for the narrator choice, and think his dry voice contributes to my dilemma) and an F- for me for the realization that my life needs books with more spoon-feeding.


  1. I think this book is particularly ill-suited to the audiobook format due to all the footnotes. You really need to choose when to read them rather than, as the audiobook does, simply reading them every time you come to one or reach the bottom of the page. Also, the book takes a REALLY LONG TIME to hit its stride. It has definitely stuck with me but is by no means an easy read.

  2. I'm not surprised you found this one hard work as an audio book - it's hard enough to concentrate on as a normal book. I have the three books - they were a pressie from a friend five years ago, and I've still only read part I (she says, feeling extremely guilty). They are on my TBR shelf for this year, and I WILL re-read part I, then move onto the unread books II and III (with a break in between - I just cannot read series in one go)