Sunday, May 21, 2006

Mid-Read Review: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell

I am a fickle, fickle girl.

I was fully intending to finish "Lust for Life" (esp after reading Claude Lalumière's comment), but then, something happened.

I was taking a train trip out of town and figured that "Lust of Life" would not be the best book to read on the train. I mean, you're stuck on the train for a few hours with strangers next to you, so you don't want to weird them out too much. (For example, one time I sat next to this woman who was reading a book titled "Ritualistic Candle Burning" and it kinda weirded me out. I can't imagine what erotic literature would do to someone more prudish.) Also, the train doesn't really have the right, shall we say, atmosphere for erotica. So I packed "Time Travel in Einstein's Universe" and "Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell" (JS&MN) instead. (Incidentally, it was Claude Lalumière who recommended the book to me.)

I had started reading JS&MN about a month earlier, but had put it down a quarter of the way through because I found it dull. But I figured that it had the potential to put me to sleep on the train so I brought it along.

On my way out of town, I wasn't in the mood of sleeping and I mostly read a magazine and occasionally read the time travel book. My ride back to town was a completely different story. We were trapped behind a freight train and moving super-slow. My train was delayed by something like two hours (enough for Via Rail to reimburse half the cost of each passenger's ticket) and I was sitting next to a woman who was possibly the most annoying person to ever walk the earth. The whole time she kept grumbling about how slow the train was going and how this would not stand ("This slowness will not stand!"). I desperately, but desperately, wanted to pass out so I wouldn't have to interact with her. So I put my earbuds in and cracked open JS&MN.

To my astonishment, the book was really fascinating and engaging. I couldn't stop reading! I became enveloped more and more into Part I of this novel about a strange, reclusive magician (Mr Norell) who is very greedy about his magical knowledge and prowess. It was well-written, funny and spooky, in all the right proportions (like when the book gets too funny, it turns spooky and when it gets too spooky, it turns funny). I was so enthralled with the book, that when Annoying Lady Next To Me would start crabbing to me, I'd take out my earbud and say, "I don't mind that we're delayed; this book is really good." Man, did that piss her off! (She only had two dinky magazines with her and no portable music device. She was obviously an amateur Via Rail traveller.)

Anyways, I'm halfway through Part II now (it's a three volume novel) and it's getting weirder and weirder and I'm wondering if Jonathan Strange will be able to clean up Mr Norell's messes. It's fantastic and I can see why so many people recommend it.

And I promise -- promise! -- that after this I'll give "Lust for Life" another go.

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