Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: Book vs. BBC

Intended for people who know the story, but not overly spoilery if you don’t.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell became one of my favourite books as I was reading it. By bookworm standards I am an exceptionally slow reader, and Jonathan Strange is exceptionally large. It took me quite a while to read it which turned it into a bit of a retreat into a dark, stormy, magical place. It just feels like something to read in the fall, when the air is crisp and it gets dark early. It reminds me of something Hermione would have read at Hogwarts regarding the history of magic in England, especially with all of the footnotes. Some span for pages.

Rather than try (and fail) to re-read the whole book this season, I decided to give the mini-series a try. I remember the trailers for it and I was quite pleased, given what I had imagined while reading the book. I had always imagined Jonathan to be more of a Tom Hiddleston but after watching the whole series I think Bertie Carvel was perfect.

Eddie Marsan’s Norrell almost hit home. He could have done with some more grump and misanthropy. 8.5/10

I didn’t really agree with the characterization of the faerie with thistle-down hair. I think he should have been more playful and mischievous but he was portrayed as very menacing and malicious.

I actually always pictured him with a bouffant and a mole, but perhaps that’s a little too French.

I was also confused by Childermass. I don’t remember him being so creepy in the book. I’m not sure it was necessary, but it worked so sure.

For the most part, I liked what they decided to keep and discard. Jonathan’s relationship with Flora Greysteel would have muddled the rest of the story and would have detracted from Jonathan and Arabella’s love story. By the way — Jonathan and Arabella are goals af. They just love each other so much omg. The only change that I didn’t quite like was that the BBC version had Jonathan save Arabella from Lost Hope but in the book she found her own way out. I’m a big fan of ladies who save themselves. I can see why they made the change, though, it ties the story together quite well.

As much as I loved seeing all the characters come to life, I think Lady Pole (Alice Englert) stole the whole show. She was sharp and clever, and mad and desperate.

Her refusal to stay married to the man she was sold to was an epic addition that I don’t remember happening in the book. She doesn’t let you forget that she was bargained to a man who, albeit was not particularly unkind, she did not love. It was a stark comparison to Jonathan and Arabella whose relationship was warm and loving even when they fought. A+ performance and characterization.

I really enjoyed watching the mini-series and I’m glad they made it 7 episodes, rather than try to squeeze this huge story into a movie. The characters got to shine and it told the biggest parts of the story. If you have not watched the mini-series, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. And if you have not read the book, there’s so much to discover and enjoy!

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Trying Out Audiobooks

 

I’m a slow reader. Don’t try to assuage me with sweet sweet lies about how I save money on books (I don’t) or that I get to savour my books (really??). It just kinda sucks. It takes forever to get through a book, unless it’s “Harry Potter” type good, then maybe a day or two. Now it takes me even longer because I just don’t sit down and read anymore.

A friend of mine who is an avid reader told me she just doesn’t have time for books anymore, so she listens to audiobooks. I thought that was a great idea, and she suggested I try my local library’s website. If you have a library card you can download audiobooks for free. So I went to my library for a card and downloaded my first audiobook: The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami*. It’s a short novel so I finished listening to it in an hour.

I don’t remember the last time I read a book in an hour.

However, the feeling of an audiobook isn’t the same. I’m a very tactile reader; I like to feel the pages, and turn the back cover over when I’m finished. The audiobook experience lacked this kind of satisfaction that I usually get with a paper book. However I was still able to enjoy the book, as well as do something with my hands (I was drawing at the time, but I can see myself doing lots of knitting with an audiobook going).

Having finished my first audiobook, I wanted to try another one — a longer one. My next download was Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. It always seemed interesting to me but I couldn’t quite get my head into the world. The audiobook helped with that! It was easier, for some reason, to situate myself in the novel’s story which is in the future in between a virtual reality game and real life.

Furthermore, with this second book I realized that the narrator is key to the enjoyment of the book. The narrator of The Strange Library was alright but nothing special. I’m really enjoying Ready Player One because Wil Wheaton is narrating and brings a lot of character and emotion.

I think as audiobooks become more popular (thank you, Audible, for sponsoring all my favourite YouTubers!) the narrators will be better and better, making the overall experience of an audiobook that much more enjoyable. I have already adjusted to not having a paper book when I tried ebooks, so this next step into audiobooks isn’t too difficult for me. I’m still having trouble calling it “reading,” but that’s just semantics. Here’s to absorbing more stories!

 

* I somewhat regret making this an audiobook choice because once I finished reading it I learned that the hard copy is full of illustrations. It would have been an entirely different experience to read the story the way it was published on paper.