Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell // by Susanna Clarke


//published 2004//

This is one of those books that has been floating around my TBR for quite some time, and I have no clear idea how it landed there.  I don’t distinctly remember reading a review of it, but it seems to be one of those books that I frequently hear referred to in a rather sidelong manner.  And I must say – I don’t really know what to make of this books.  In an odd way, it put me in mind of the Series of Unfortunate Events – a book that somehow isn’t at my level of understanding.  For me, a 2/5 – I can understand why its average Goodreads rating is much closer to a 4/5, but it just isn’t for me.

The book is a rich one.  At over 800 pages, it is a brick of a book, and I honestly dithered about finishing it…  I decided to give it 150 pages to make its case, and although I wasn’t completely hooked  by then, I was engaged enough to want to see where things went.  It’s a slow-paced book that covers a decade of time – a decade in which it genuinely feels like more ought to have happened, but didn’t.

The slow world-building, enhanced by Clarke’s numerous footnotes (more on those in a moment), was impressive.  Clarke builds a true sense of this alternate-reality she has created.  Her interweaving of actual history into her world was very well done.

So why can I not summon up warmer feelings for this book?  I wanted to love this book, truly I did.  But, in the end, it just never quite hooked me.  While many layers of many characters are revealed, I still never felt bonded with any of them.  I could never quite believe in the depth of Strange’s affection for his wife, so the many actions he takes to rescue her felt awkward to me.  The entire ending was rather abrupt (especially for a book of such length), and I felt a little betrayed that (SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER) that, after all that effort, Strange and his wife are not really reunited…????

I had very mixed feelings about the footnotes as well.  While I liked them as an alternative to endless explanatory dialogue, they were also more than a bit distracting, occurring as they often did in the middle of sentences and sometimes running on to a page or more in length, entire little stories of their own.  In some ways this was fun, and in other ways  – most of the time, if I’m honest – it was plain aggravating.

By halfway through, I once again felt that I was at a crossroads – should I finish this book??  But I just kept feeling as though something had to happen – that things would pick up – that a plot would suddenly appear – that I would like someone – so I kept on.  Honestly, I regret that decision.  I lugged this incredibly heavy book on holiday to finish the last 200 pages, and then just sat there, staring at the last page, feeling incredibly ripped off.  I don’t usually feel annoyed about books when I’m done with them, but I did this one.

In the end, I think my rather meh feelings towards this book come back to the fact that I didn’t love any of the characters.  They were fine, but I never truly felt bound up in their fate.  It seemed, that with that many pages to tell the tale, there ought to have been at least one person for whom I cherished a sincere affection and concern – but there wasn’t.  Instead, the whole story felt ponderous, heavy, and a bit prosy – Clarke frequently flirted with the line between well-researched and stuffily pleased with her knowledge.

There are many (many) positive reviews for this book, so by no means discard it on my word.  But for myself – I must confess that I don’t really understand the hype surrounding this book that, in my mind, could have been culled down by half quite easily…


Stormy // by Jim Kjelgaard

//published 1959//

//published 1959//

In this Kjelgaard story, we meet Allan.  He lives, of course, in the wilderness.  He and his father work as hunting guides in an area known especially for its duck hunting.  Unfortunately, a few months before the opening of our book, Allan’s father was arrested and imprisoned for getting into a fight with a neighbor that nearly did the neighbor in.  Allan, a quiet youth presumably around twenty, is doing his best to carry on.  But their property is landlocked by the now-feuding neighbors, who have reduced Allan’s right-of-way to a mere footpath, which means – no hunters and no income.

But Allan carries on, planting a garden, running a trapline, and, in general, eking out a living as best he can from the land, all while traipsing into the city to visit his father on visiting days.  Allan’s peaceful routine is interrupted when a dog shows up on his property – a dog that Allan soon discovers is also an outlaw – wanted for attacking a man.  Allan befriends and earns the trust of the dog, whom he names Stormy, and they work together to survive the long winter.

In many ways, this book is a little different from some of Kjelgaard’s other works.  Despite his woodlore, Allan is not a perfect figure – he struggles to control his temper when provoked by the neighbors, and wrestles with what to tell his father when asked how hunting season is going.  He doesn’t always make smart decisions, and has to live with some poor choices.  More so than most of Kjelgaard’s other books, Allan is a loner, and a lot of the book is his internal dialogue.

The story is also slightly preachier than others that I have read, with a very strong emphasis on the importance of balanced and humane wildlife management – which means that there simply must be some hunting done by humans.  At one point in the winter, Allan comes across deer that have “yarded” – as a herd, they keep a certain area of snow trampled down, but as the snow deepens, they are unable to leave that yard and thus have a limited amount of food to get them through the winter.  Allan reflects on the fact that, with a lack of natural predators, the number of deer have increased.

Allan thought suddenly of a magazine story he had read.  It was an impassioned and over-sentimentalized plea for wildlife and at the same time a vitriolic denunciation of hunters.  The author painted vivid word pictures of wild creatures shot down.  He called deer “the forest’s innocents,” and railed about the viciousness of shooting them with firearms.  Allan decided as he walked along that he would like to bring that author to this yard about the middle of March and let him see for himself what happened to many of “the forest’s innocents” when there was too little browse to go around.  A bullet offered a far kinder death than slow starvation.  If deer were harvested sensibly rather than sentimentally, a fair share of those that died every winter anyhow would provide valuable food for humans.

While not jarring, many of these little side musings are not integral to the story.  And although I generally agreed with the sentiments, I sometimes found myself skimming a bit to get to the next bit of action.

But if I’m honest, Stormy really isn’t terribly long on action.  While there is a certain level of suspense as to what will happen to Allan and Stormy long term, most of the book is just the two of them meandering around doing a bit of this and that.  It’s a book that would probably only be interesting to those who are intrigued by woodlore and the idea of living off the land.  While I give it a 3/5 for a decent read, I would definitely recommend some of Kjelgaard’s other works – like Wild Trek and Lion Hound – first.

Hot Water // by P.G. Wodehouse

My dear fellow book-lovers!  How I have missed you!  One of the things that I really enjoy about book blogging is interacting with other book bloggers – reading their reviews and then discussing what they have to say.  While I have been enthusiastically reading everyone’s reviews via emails on my phone, my phone just doesn’t like the WordPress app and so…  you all have no idea how much I am enjoying your reviews!!

We are back from vacation now – we spent a lovely ten days in the mountains of Colorado – hopefully I will blog about that on my other blog very soon – we took about a thousand pictures and none of them captured the immensity and beauty of those mountains.  Now we’re back and settling back into the groove of life.  Things are well on the little homestead, and Waylon is growing like a weed!  (So, incidentally, are my tomatoes – this wet summer has created a JUNGLE.)

I’m hoping to get a few book reviews posted before the end of the month, so July’s Rearview will have something besides the TWENTY-NINE BOOKS you all have added to my TBR!


//published 1932//

And so, this brings us to Hot Water.  As I have mentioned before, nothing brings me the same kind of pure, unadulterated joy as a Wodehouse novel.  His ability to make a plot both complex and simple, unique and predictable, and hilarious and…  well, hilarious, puts him a class of his own.  There are good books, bad books, boring books, so-so books, and then: there is Wodehouse.

Wodehouse is, more or less, impossible to summarize.  Summarizations sound like chaos (which, let’s be honest, isn’t too far from the mark).  From the back of the book:

The house-party at Chateau Blissac, Brittany, features a rather odd array of guests this year…

Mr. J. Wellington Gedge is hoping for smoe peace and quiet while his wife takes herself off for a while.  She, however, has invited numerous visitors to the chateau, to whom he will have to play reluctant host.  Senator Opal and his daughter Jane are expected and the chateau’s handsome, gadabout owner Vicomte de Blissac.  When a certain letter goes missing, landing the Senator in the proverbial hot water, it’s up to Packy Franklyn, a great pal of the Vicomte’s, to sort out the mess.  Unfortunately, this involves a little light safe-cracking. Luckily, Packy bumps into the light-fingered Soup Slattery…

Honestly, I almost didn’t even bother posting that summary. It makes the book sound dreadfully stilted and weird, when, in reality, it is light, frothy, and bubbly.  Wodehouse is, in fact – I have just this moment realized – the champagne of books.  Absolutely no substance whatsoever, but delightful for an evening of entertainment and pleasure.

While this is not, in my opinion, one of Wodehouse’s best efforts, even a so-so Wodehouse is superior to most books I find these days.  His timing is as exquisite as ever, the dialogue genius, and his knack for the perfect twist at the perfect time is just fabulous.

I love the way that he manages to build characters through not just descriptions of their physical appearances, but through their actions and conversations:

When [Veek] rose again, it was so evident that he was a poor swimmer that Packy realized that he had got to do something immediately.

Many men in Packy’s position would have shrunk from diving in to the rescue, fully clad.  Packy was one of them.  He was fond of the Vicomte, but not to the extent of ruining a nearly new flannel suit in his interests.  However, the spirit of Aud Lang Syne was sufficiently strong in him to cause him to climb into the dinghy, and in a few minutes he had gaffed the poor bit of flotsam and brought it safely aboard.

And there you have Packy in a nutshell – not, perhaps, heroic, but imminently practical nonetheless.

The whole tale is the usual Wodehouse tangle that somehow manages to come out perfectly, with everyone paired with the ideal individual, and no one (much) worse for the wear.

4/5 and the reminder that everyone – everyone – should pick up a Wodehouse!