jonathanstrangeandmrnorrell

For us there is only the trying (August update)

And… it’s time for an August review! Sit back, grab a cookie, and enjoy. Here’s what to expect:

  • An update on Thomas Clarkson
  • Thoughts on life and growth
  • Piranesi! (or, I won a book)
  • My painting I mentioned back in July
  • What I’ve been reading lately

Thomas Clarkson

Last time I spoke about Thomas Clarkson, I wrote about all the prayer which has gone into the project, by me and by others. This month I signed a contract to publish a Thomas Clarkson children’s biography! I am very excited, and overwhelmed by God’s kindness. Just because you’re passionate about something and put a lot of work in, doesn’t mean it will succeed… and when it does, it’s such a blessing. I spent August finishing and editing the manuscript, and it is which is now safely in the hands of my proof-readers (thank you!).

We’re always growing

August was a very busy, and at times stressful month, if I’m completely honest. Difficult assignments, surprise deadlines for various assignments all converging in the same week, some exhausting health problems (nothing major, just, well… exhausting!) and a burgeoning realisation that I’m a bit over COVID.

I’m grateful to God for his kindness, even so because although life is sometimes just plain Hard, in this season I have been able to see growth. We’re always growing of course, and God is making us more like him, but it’s one thing to know this, and quite another to see it. Lately I’ve noticed that Emily a year ago, five years ago, a decade ago, would have reacted differently. I have matured – spiritually, socially and emotionally. The difficult times in my life have brought forth golden fruit, even if I couldn’t see it at the time. Nothing is in vain.

So as my birthday draws near, and I realise (as I do every year) that I am not where I expected to be, or the person I expected to become, I take heart. Because my Father in heaven is working. Slowly, but surely, he is re-making me into his likeness. It’s painful and frustrating, and it takes too long, but it’s happening. So I wait in expectation and hope.

Piranesi

As some of you might know, I’m a huge Susanna Clarke fan. Up until this year she had only ever written one novel: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I loved it so much, and still think about it frequently. BUT she’s written another book! And I won a competition and for an advanced copy! And I loved it!

It took me a while to get into, and it’s very different to JS&MN, but it’s the sort of book which stays with you. You go on this strange, gripping journey, and you emerge with a new understanding of the world. Would strongly recommend.

“Nearer my God to Thee”

I realised that I never showed you the painting I mentioned ages ago. So, although it was finished before August… here it is:

I really like the story of the musicians on the Titanic. I admire their courage and their steadfastness. There’s something beautiful in their decision to play a hymn to comfort others, even as the ship went down.

Reading Lately

Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine – Gail Honeyman

^ This was a lovely, heart-warming read – but what struck me most was that it was a book about healing. How often do terrible things happen to characters, only for the book to end? Or a Dark Past to be merely a plot device? That said, it’s not a book about Issues. You know, the kind which feels like it’s written so the author can tell you How Bad Drugs Are, or something. No, it’s a genuinely good book which manages to be both realistic and hilarious.

Four Quartets – T. S. Eliot

^I love Eliot’s poetry. It’s confusing and deep and absolutely beautiful. I particularly enjoyed ‘East Coker’:

“And what there is to conquer, by strength and submission, has already been discovered, once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope to emulate – but there is no competition – there is only the fight to recover what has been lost… for us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.”

East Coker – T. S. ELiot

Brideshead Revisited – Eugene Waugh

^ I expected not to like this… but I was pleasantly surprised. The writing is beautiful, the themes relatively thoughtful, and the subject matter interesting. For a book where not a lot happened, I couldn’t put it down!

The Wounded Healer – Henri Nouwen

^ Really interesting discussion of what it means to reach out to broken people when we ourselves are broken. I love his writing!

Othello – William Shakespeare

[watched, RSC, Youtube. Header image is from performance]

^ Talk about a tragedy. I generally prefer Shakespeare’s tragedies… but this was brutal. I think it was because, unlike Macbeth or Hamlet, there is no transcendent sort of aspect, which helps remove it from the every day (ie. no ghost, not witches, no prophecy, just evil, selfish men).

What about you? Read anything recently? How are you going with the whole COVID situation?

Images courtesy of https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2015/jun/12/othello-rsc-stratford-hugh-quarshie-lucian-msamati-joanna-vanderham

A biblical interpretation of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

I wrote a review of sorts for the BBC series Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, but it occurs to me that I have neglected to write about book by Susanna Clarke of the same name.

There are multiple book reviews for this 800 page novel on the web. Some brilliant, some dry, some which encapsulate what I believe to be the heart of the book and others which appear to miss it altogether.

There are also many critical interpretations: I’ve read essays which address social class, feminism, LGBT representation, historicism, religion, textual structure, folklore and nationalism.

I haven’t seen a Biblical interpretation (although I saw an interesting gnosticism one) and so I’d like to attempt that here. I feel, however, that I ought to state some disclaimers:

  1. By analyzing JSMN from a biblical perspective, I’m not claiming that this is how Clarke constructed the text. I am simply doing what literary critics do and reading it with a specific framework in mind.
  2. I’m also not claiming that ‘the Author is dead,’ and Clarke’s intentions don’t matter. I think that such a reading devalues the text. Nevertheless, the reader has a right to interpret to the extent that they can back their arguments with textual examples.
  3. By reading JSMN through a biblical framework, I’m not claiming it’s an allegory. There seems to be the mistaken idea that reading something “with a Christian perspective” simply involves finding a Christ-like figure and pinpointing a resurrection – as if textual interpretation is some sort of bizarre Where’s Wally? Game. It’s so much more than that.

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Thinking Fiction: Why we like characters who work undercover for the ‘good’ side

I’m forever on a quest to discover why I like what I like. This is part of my foray into ‘types’ of fictional characters and why we as readers like them.

Who or what are ‘characters who work undercover for the ‘good’ side’?

I’m not sure if this is a universal ‘like’, but it’s certainly one of mine. I really enjoy reading a book or watching a TV series in which a character has to hide their true allegiances from others.

These characters appear ‘less than’ noble, ‘less than’ dependable, and at times downright villainous to most of the other characters, yet are actually working for the side of ‘good’. If they are the protagonist they are likely striving to ‘help’ society or a faction thereof, if they are not the protagonist, they are often an undercover champion for the protagonist’s cause.

An extreme example of this is when an individual the protagonist believes is ‘evil’ is revealed at the end of a series or novel to have been working for ‘good’ the entire time.

This is an extreme and difficult example to plot for three reasons:

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Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (BBC)

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (BBC mini-series 2015; Netflix; my local library) is a regency era alternative history detailing the attempt of two “practical” magicians to bring magic back to England.

“We have channelled all of English magic into a butler and then we have shot him!”

Magic was common place in Britain during the era of the mysterious Raven King but for the last 300 years it has been confined to theoretical study only. The fussy, book-loving Mr. Norrell joins forces with the flamboyant, reckless Jonathan Strange to make English magic “Respectable” once more.

Mr. Norrell is aided, cajoled and protected by his mysterious man-servant Childermass, a former pick-pocket who is looking forward to the return of the Raven King.

#Childermass Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell Raven King

Jonathon Strange is determined to make his wife Arabella proud of him, but is hindered by Mr. Norrell’s refusal to dabble in anything too outlandish.

Power hungry politicians, the Faerie realm, and the death of Strange’s wife tear the two apart. As they travel from France to Vienna and from Yorkshire to London in order to undo  As magic returns and the ancient roads of the Raven King are re-opened the two must decide what is most important, and whether they really will sacrifice everything for a future they may never see.

Mr. Norrell: A party? I wish to go home and read a book.

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