Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, a novel, clocks just over a thousand pages, making it shorter than the book John Barber celebrated in the Toronto Globe and Mail and Car Advertiser yesterday (Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace), but longer than that ALLDERBLOB touchstone, A Confederacy of Dunces. It’s a first novel by Susanna Clarke, who spent 10 years writing it (according to Wikipedia). It was acclaimed when published in 2004, winning nomination for the Man Booker prize and earning that year’s Hugo award (for a fantasy novel). Not sure why we need to explain this to you; we feel confident you will know this already. Perhaps it’s because Barber went on at such great length about the number of pages in Infinite Jest. The fact is, it’s a good novel and well worth reading but it would be so even at half the length. What we’re trying to say is the length has nothing to do with it.
Okay, start over.
In starting to write today we were reminded of a quote we read once by Sylvia Plath, the poet, about inspiration: something about the rare flash of a raven’s wing. Of course the Clarke novel celebrates ravens, in a sense, and it deals with the relation between magic and madness, so perhaps that’s where the Plath quote came from. But the notion we were grasping at was the elusiveness of the poetic or creative drive. We were getting at the fact of the goddamn silence around here these past few weeks and months. We were trying to apologize, if you want to know. But nevermind. We couldn’t find the quote, first of all, and secondly we got distracted by a writer’s website we came across, a guy named Augusten Burroughs who writes “memoirs” for crissakes and who doesn’t have a blog, he has a goddamned “blob.”
This got us so goddamned depressed we couldn’t even get started, and even worse the guy had a heck of a sense of humour. In fact he was selling “Sylvia Plath oven mitts” from his site, which must have struck him and some of his clever friends as enormously funny. We got to wondering what would happen if you googled “blob not blog” and spent some time searching for ourselves in the aether, eventually turning up Burroughs again who it turned out wrote the book no one we know has read, “Running with Scissors.” How the hell did it get to be so well known?
We figure it’s the title. Just need a good title.
Well unfortunately Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell does not do this trick, but it sure is long. And we enjoyed it. Did we mention there are no cars in it?
A lot of things got to us about Clarke’s novel. One of them was how, when you really want to speak about something important, something that’s life-or-death, something that really needs to be said if you (or the world) are possibly to regain some semblance of sanity, you can’t find the words for it. You spin around in some tailwind of nonsense, of trivia, of fairytale fluff and finally have to give up as you see your audience lose faith, or interest, or patience.
This is kind of what’s happened here at the ol’ blob, if you want to know the truth. Occasionally we’ve come close to an accurate expression of the crisis at hand, but to be honest the closest we’ve come is when we’ve acknowledged our hopelessness at just that expression. To be honest the only thing that gives us hope is those moments when we give up and say we’ve failed. That’s when we’ve come closest to success, which sadly provides that smallest of incentive to try again another day.
That’s it for today. Maybe if we have our usual volume of clamour following one of our blobbings, we will return with more on Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell at a later date. Maybe we’ll write about how we finished the last pages of the book during a Porter Air flight from New York to Toronto the other day. What a pleasure that was! Porter really does almost succeed in making air travel in these sick days palatable. Did we feel hypocritical as hell, flying Porter? Kinda. God damn those Island people anyway, why didn’t they love us when we invited them to? [note: read the final “letter to the editor” presented here if you want to know what we’re talking about. –ed.].