Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell read-along, Volume III – John Uskglass

Here we are, at the end of week three of our read-along. I must say that even though I didn’t start this book with the greatest of hopes, I am very glad that I did get to read it. Many thanks to Vishy for suggesting we do this read-along (it probably would have taken me a lot longer to get to read this book on my own) and to the bloggers who have joined us. I hope everybody enjoyed the book.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell The third and last volume begins with a story about Fairies that happened hundreds of years ago, long before the main story in the book. It has common elements with a vampire story, which is probably why I enjoyed it so much, and one of the characters named in the footnotes was made famous by Shakespeare in one of his plays.
The mix of well-known characters and real life people continues in this volume. I am enjoying those very much. One of these people is Lord Byron, and the author describes him and several other famous authors:

Strange was unsettled by Byron’s domestic arrangements. “I found his lordship at his pretty villa upon the shores of the lake. He was not alone. There was another poet called Shelley, Mrs Shelley and another young woman – a girl really – who called herself Mrs Clairmont and whose relationship to the two men I did not understand. If you know, do not tell me. Also present was an odd young man who talked nonsense the entire time – a Mr Polidori.”

The rivalry between the two magicians reaches new heights as Norrell causes his former pupil’s newly published book to vanish, to the amazement and indignation of the ones who buy it. Imagine if you bought a book you really wanted to read, only to find out it disappears once you get home. Comical and annoying. Ironically this is the thing that changes Strange’s impression of Lord Byron, as the poet sympathizes with him.

“When he heard that a whole book had been magicked out of existence by the author’s enemy, his indignation was scarcely to be described. He sent me a long letter, vilifying Norrell in the liveliest terms. Of all the letters I received upon that sad occasion, this is my favourite. No Englishman alive can equal his lordship for an insult.”

Vinculus and Drawlight make an appearance again for a brief time, but they are just pieces to be moved in the game and discarded once their roles are played.
After the shocking ending of the second volume, it takes a while before the author reveals what happened with that particular strand of the story. An interesting and hopeful revelation, very powerful magic, symbolism and madness, an almost-love-story, and a satisfying denouement made this book a great adventure. The last half of the volume was so intense it kept me awake well past my bedtime but it was well worth it. I like it that not everything was tied up with a pink ribbon at the end. We get some answers but not all of them. The mystery of The Raven King remains a mystery, and not everybody lives happily ever after but there is hope and the possibility of better things to come. I almost wish there was a sequel, but better not. It would have been great to find out more about The Raven King, as he was a most interesting character, but the mystery he left behind was equally intriguing.

The participants in this read-along and their thoughts on Volume III:

Vishy (Vishy’s Blog
TJ (My Book Strings)
Fleur in Her World
Yasmine (Yasmine Rose’s Book Blog)

My rating: 4/5 stars

*Read in January 2014

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11 Responses to Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell read-along, Volume III – John Uskglass

  1. TJ says:

    I’m glad you enjoyed the book. Without the read-along, it would have taken me longer to read it as well. I liked that The Raven King is still shrouded in a bit of a mystery, and the book almost ends where it started in regards to “normal” magicians: a bunch of people arguing over the best way to do magic. The scene with Childermass and Vinculus at the Yorkshire meeting reminded me a bit of the opening scene, where the theoretical magicians quarreled, but didn’t actually do magic. I think Clarke left the door open for a sequel, but like you, I am not sure I want one.

    • Delia says:

      Ah yes, a sort of a circle ending. I liked Childermass and thought Norrell treated him rather badly.
      A risky thing, sequels, they’re never as good as the first movie/book, so it’s better to be left wanting more than have things spoiled.
      Clarke has another book, a short story collection called “The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories”, have you heard of it? I’d love to read this one, too.

  2. Brian Joseph says:

    Great commentary on this book Delia.

    This sounds like an intriguing read and I am sorry that i was unable to join you. The story and characters sound so appealing. It seems like an intense book that is also a bit fun.

    • Delia says:

      Thanks Brian, it was fun to read. Not intense I would say, except for the last half of volume 3, but still good. Maybe you can join us for the next read-along.

  3. Vishy says:

    Wonderful post, Delia! I am sorry I am late in commenting. I wanted to finish the book before reading your post. I finished reading it late yesterday night and I couldn’t stop till I had reached the last page. I loved the description of that scene with Byron, the Shelleys and Doctor Polidori (who is supposed to have written the first ever vampire story) that you have quoted. Like you, I loved the mix of fact and fiction that Susanna Clarke expertly weaves together. I was puzzled by Drawlight in the end – he looked very different to the Drawlight whom we meet at the beginning of the book. I was shocked by the ending in volume 2 and though Susanna Clarke does things to make us feel better in volume 3, it was still a shock. I liked very much what you said about how Clarke doesn’t tie up everything with a pink ribbon in the end. I would love to know more about the Raven King – it is sad that he makes only a brief appearance in the third volume (if it was him). I would also like to know whether Strange was able to solve the eternal night problem. It clearly looks that when the book came out, a sequel was dreamt about by the writer, but now that many years have passed, I don’t know whether she is actually going to do it.

    Thanks for being a wonderful co-host during the read-along and for inspiring me to read this book. It is such a big chunkster that I wouldn’t have read it otherwise.

  4. Delia says:

    Hi Vishy,
    Glad to see you liked the book. I was surprised to see references to so many writers and poets, it’s obvious the author tried to bring well known facts into the story. Strange’s reaction was funny – “they wanted me to tell them about vampyres!”
    I wonder if The Raven King wasn’t some sort of spirit and not a person, and if by knowing the language he created and being able to speak to the stones, water, sun, etc., he might be summoned. Sort of like the genie in the bottle.
    I remember reading an interview with the author somewhere online and she said there won’t be a sequel, but some of the characters in the book appear in separate stories in a short story collection she wrote called “The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories”.
    Thanks for participating as well, it was a great read-along.

    • Vishy says:

      Those references were really wonderful, Delia. It was nice to meet so many historical and literary personalities through the pages of the book. I wish that Ann Radcliffe and Matthew Lewis had made an appearance too 🙂 I liked very much your thought that maybe the Raven King was a spirit. It is interesting to think about him that way. It is sad that there won’t be any sequel to this book. But it is also nice as you have said – I think the open-ended ending to the story was perfect and leaves things to the reader’s imagination. Thanks for telling me more about ‘The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories’. It will be fun to read those stories and find out more about some of the characters who first made their appearance in ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr.Norrell’ – it will be like meeting old friends. Have you read that book?

      • Delia says:

        I haven’t read that book but I want to. I’m going to see if I can find it at the bookstore. That would be great.
        I hope you get to read it, too.

  5. Yasmine says:

    A wonderful review, Delia! I found Norrell’s actions against Strange’s book very frustrating yet comical. The mix of fictional and real-life characters were expertly weaved together and I really can’t fault the book in any way. I have Clarke’s book ‘Ladies of Grave Adieu’ and look forward to reading that soon! Sorry my review is late, I finished the book last week but struggled to find the time to write the review, but here it is:

    Thank you for co-hosting the read along!

    • Delia says:

      Hello Yasmine,
      I agree, Norrell was quite annoying but in the end it was difficult to be upset with him. That was his life’s work, magic. I liked the fact that Strange didn’t hold a grudge either.
      That’s great, you have that book and maybe you can read it and let us know if it’s as good as this one.
      No problem about the review, I’m off to read it now.
      Thanks for joining us in the read-along!

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