Neil Gaiman, writer of unquestionably the finest fantasy comic book in the last twenty years, calls Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke "unquestionably the finest English novel of the fantastic written in the last seventy years." One hesitates to tangle with the Dream King, but he's wrong-wrong-wrong.I'm tempted to question Neil's Englishness at this point --- he's lived in the US for about a decade now, I think --- but I won't, as I wish to sleep well tonight.
Unquestionably the finest English novel of the fantastic written, well, ever, and certainly since 1934 or 1926, is either The Hobbit or The Once and Future King. Gaiman says that The Lord of the Rings (which isn't The Hobbit, anyhow) is not "an English novel of the fantastic," which would perhaps come as some shock to the Professor. I agree with Gaiman that LOTR isn't a novel, in the formal sense (it's an epic), but it's pretty English, and The Hobbit is even Englisher, and definitely a novel.
Professor Tolkein was explicitly writing "English fantasy," so the Englishness quotient can be taken as a given. Apparently Gaiman and Tolkein disagree on what's "Englishness," in which case I can only say that, yes, Strange & Norrell is veddy veddy English, but so is The Hobbit, to this American at any rate. (One doesn't expect Gaiman to even try to question T.H. White's Englishness, but someone who will claim that hobbits are un-English will claim anything.)
21 November 2004
If you're the sort of person who's thinking of picking up Susanna Clark's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, then you'll want to have a look at Kenneth Hite talking about how Neil Gaiman seems to have overstated the appropriate level of enthusiasm for the book.