Books, SFF

My thoughts on Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Kate Nepveu: A thing about Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell that you wish got more attention.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell got so much attention — surely far more than anyone could have expected for a gigantimous footnote-packed novel written in an authentic-feeling if not precisely authentic Regency voice* — that I struggle to think of any aspect I wish had got more attention!

One thing I do think people often miss is the wildness hidden in the core of the book. I mean, it is all about these starchy ladies and gentlemen going “Oh, I pray you!” and “To own the truth!”, and doing laborious academic magic, and Mr Norrell in particular maddens me because he is so fuddy-duddy, but that is the great thing about it because the book is all about how all of that is a thin skin of pretence disguising a great big wildness that is at the heart of England and English magic (which, in Clarke’s world, are basically the same thing). And the way the book uncovers that is just thrilling, and so well done. *_*

Within the book, I wish we spent more time with the female characters. The first time I read it I felt absolutely starved for more of Arabella Strange and Lady Pole and Flora Greysteel (but especially Arabella, who is my favourite). The Ladies of Grace Adieu remedies the imbalance a little bit, but it’s just not the same, sigh. I also wish we knew more about Stephen Black — I am very fond of him, but you don’t get very much of him before the Spoilery Thing happens and he gets all smooshed and depressed.

I’ve actually just done a big JS&MN reread, having not read it for years, and it is a little embarrassing how much I’ve obviously been influenced by it, from the elements that got into the book I’m working on (even though I’d forgotten most of these things at the time I was actually writing the book). Hopefully my book is not too derivative, but I can definitely see how in a way I was writing it in response to the gaps I perceived — I was making mine a story about the things I wanted more about. The negative space in a story is just as important as the stuff that’s filled in.

 

*I don’t mean this in a bad way. I think it’s best for modern Regency novels to be written in the author’s interpretation of Regency style, rather than the style an actual contemporary Regency author would have adopted. Patrick O’Brian is a dazzling example of the heights you can reach with that, and Susanna Clarke is another. It always puzzles me when people say how dull or impenetrable her prose is; it seems so clear and sparkling and light to me. Her sentences are also a lot shorter than most actual Regency writers’.

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About Jade Yeo, Books, Writing

On postcolonial fluff for booknerds, made-up genre of my heart

atropinesulfate: I would love to hear about postcolonial fluff for booknerds, and any plans for a sequel to Jade Yeo/her descendants.

O postcolonial fluff for booknerds, made-up genre of my heart! Postcolonial is a big term and maybe not that accurate, but I use it because I think of this imaginary genre as being a reactive one, a thing that I am producing as part of a long slow recovery process. What I am doing with it is, I am processing my childhood reading — all the stuff that was really influential and enjoyable, but also kind of secretly toxic — and I am trying to extract the poison from it while preserving the things I loved. Jade is a reaction to Wodehouse and Daddy-Long-Legs and I Capture The Castle. The novel I am working on is a reaction to Georgette Heyer and Susanna Clarke.

It is questionable how much you can do to save a trope. There have been times when I have reflected that a Regency novel is going to be dodgy whichever way you slice it. You can’t get away from the fact that the original of this delightful fictionalised polite society was built on the proceeds of slavery and conquest. I think it’s important to recognise that.

But there’s this idea that fiction by or about people who are traditionally underrepresented in Western literature is kind of innately worthy and dull. Things are getting better obviously, but you know how if you are looking for an Asian-American book you’ll get 8 out of 10 that are memoirs of cultural conflict or immigration or whatever, and if you are looking for a LGBT book a lot of them are about coming out and whatnot, and you throw up your hands and say, Can’t I just read about PIRATES?

Don’t get me wrong, I like reading the serious things as well, but PIRATES have their place. I think people constitute themselves through stories and it’s really important to have trashy enjoyable fiction about you, as well as worthy epics. Anyway, that is what postcolonial fluff for booknerds is partly about. It is mostly about having fun!

I probably shouldn’t say too much about sequels to Jade Yeo, because I don’t really know what they will look like yet. But what I’d like to do is write three or four more novellas for self-publication. Each will be romance and revolve around one of her female descendants/relations. I have really only thought about the next one, about her daughter, but I want to use a very similar voice for all of them. I will need to capture that sort of private cackling mood of self-indulgence in which I wrote Jade to do it — but first I’ve got to finish my book!

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