A number of patrons have come in recently talking about the TV adaptation of Susannah Clarke’s masterful Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell that will be airing on BBC America this Saturday. I have to admit, I have yet to tackle this 900+ page meisterwerk (oddly, the new paperback edition seems more intimidating than the hardcover!), but this is a book that readers, critics, and other writers are all praising unequivocally. The book picked up the TImes book of the year award in 2005, as well as the Hugo Award for best novel, and the British book awards newcomer of the year award. Astro City writer Kurt Busiek has been singing the praises of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell for a while, and is apparently quite pleased with the results (though we both agree that attempting to cover this amount of book in 6 episodes seems pretty ambitious…). Neil Gaiman, whose opinion should be considered in all manners, literary and otherwise, said that Susannah Clarke’s work was “Unquestionably the finest English novel of the fantastic written in the last seventy years.”
And now, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell are set to make their television debut. Bertie Carvel, who has made quite a name for himself on the London stage, and appeared in the film adaptation of Les Miserables as Bamatabois, is set to play Jonathan Strange, and Eddie Marsan, who played Inspector Lestrade in the recent Sherlock Holmes films starring Robert Downey, Jr., is lined up to play Mr. Norrell. Critics already have lovely things to say about this adaptation…so let’s give this a try, beloved patrons, shall we?
And in the meantime, here are a few items to get you in the mood for Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell…..
If you liked Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Then check out:
Perdido Street Station: I have a crazy little reader crush on China Mieville’s work….his writing is so inviting and the imaginative details be puts into creating his worlds are so alluring that by the time you realize what a completely bizarre, borderline insane book you have started, it’s just too late. The world outside his story just seems too dull and too predictable. And then you finish it, and just need more. This book itself is set in New Curazon, a squalid city full of humans, ‘re-mades’, and an enormous cast of other, even stranger people, are ruled by a ruthless Parliament and controlled by a brutal army. But when New Curazon’s most brilliant scientist is approached by the Garuda–a fantastic half-bird, half-man–with a bizarre and fascinating challenge, he has no choice but to accept, and no idea what fate has in story for him. I realize, even in typing this, how bizarre this story sounds, but if you told me to read a book about two magicians unite forces to defeat Napoleon, I wouldn’t question you so. So be sure to check out China Mieville’s remarkable, explosively creative, addictive novel soon.
Neverwhere: Some library sites recommend Neil Gaiman’s American Gods as a co-read piece with Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell…my only recommendation to you is to read All The Things that Neil Gaiman has written. The man is a genius, and all of his stories are transporting, inspiring, and, usually, genuinely terrifying in a way that is utterly unique and unforgettable. Like JS&MN, Neverwhere takes a world that readers think they know and reinvents it. In this novel, young businessman Richard Mayhew follows a young woman pursued by assassins into the London Underground…and discovers a world of saints, angels, knights, and demons; the people who have fallen through the cracks. Neverwhere is a fast-paced, exhilarating, haunting novel that will linger long after the cover has finally closed. And, like JS&MN, this book was also turned into a BBC mini-series that you can check out, as well!
The Quincunx: Like JS&MN, Charles Palliser’s epic novel is set in the 19th century, and features the kind of rich details and detailed narrative that readers will savor. In this weighty tome, which has received a number of comparisons to Dickens, as well as to Susannah Clarke, five families form a sort of five-point key that young, pitifully poor John Mellamphy must unlock in order to save his family. Though not a quick read, or necessarily an easy one, readers who delve into The Quincunx will have the chance to travel not only to another place, but another time, and will carry the memories of that journey for some time to come.
The Paper Magician: Though certainly not as dense as JS&MN, Charlie Holmberg’s debut features two Victorian magicians who must join forces in order to defend their world. In this case, however, the protagonist is Cecily Twill, a young woman who graduated top of her class at a school for the magically inclined–but even she doesn’t have the power to fix her broken heart. And despite her dreams to work with metal, Cecily is assigned to apprentice under a paper magician. Nothing seems to make sense–until her tutor is capture, and Cecily realizes she will risk anything to get him back. There is a light-hearted charm to Holmberg’s story that makes it easy to fall into the world of her story, and readers who enjoy this book will be delighted to know that there are two more books in Cecily’s story to enjoy!
The Illusionist: Based on the sensational, and delightfully unsettling short story, “Eisenheim, the illusionist” by Steven Millhauser (which you can read in the collection The Barnam Museum), this is a stunningly beautiful movie about Eisenheim, the inscrutable and subversive magician whose powers threaten to destabilize the whole of the Habsburg Monarchy. Though the film plays very fast and loose with history (particularly in its treatment of Crown Prince Rudolf, who was, in reality, a pretty awesome guy), the story that sustains it is so good that it’s still worth watching, especially for the crafty final twist that makes the ending its own kind of magic trick.