Christmas Reading including Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

In August I mentioned a New York Times review of the alleged next Harry Potter-style blockbuster. Whilst waiting at London City Airport on Christmas Eve to fly home to my family I managed to pick up a soft back copy of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clark which apparently is an ‘airport exclusive’. Like the Potter series, this fantasy novel is published by Bloomsbury and they have a successful product on their hands.

However the bookss are poles apart, Clark’s work reminds me of the intellectual rigor and sophistication that you find in The Lord of the Rings as Tolkein’s background in old English literature shows through. Clarks efforts are based on gaelic faerie tales, the Brothers Grimm, Napoleonic history, the gentlemen of Dickensian and Kipling literature and a love of the English language. Antique English is given a salute with show and showed being substituted with shew and shewed respectively.

It is not a book for the faint-hearted weighing at almost 800 pages, so do not expect readers to come from Harry Potter’s younger audience but his adult fans, they may be joined by graphic novel fans who would appreciate its richness and depth. I think it is one of the cleverest novels since Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen volume one and it has praise on the back cover by Neil Gaiman, better known as the author behind the Sandman series. It is interesting that Susanna Clarke cites Alan Moore’s earlier Watchmen graphic novel as an influence

The second book that I read was The Forty Seven Ronin Story by John Allyn. This is based on one samurai honor and bravery. In 1702, Naganori Asano-Takuminokami was on a ceremonial visit to the Shogun, he was insulted by a greedy and corrupt courtier, Lord Asano struck the courtier with his sword, violating the law, and resulting in his own order to commit ceremonial

suicide. His estates became forfeit to the Shogunate and all of his retained samurai became ronin.

They plotted revenge and regaining their honour by killing the courtier, 47 of the ronin bided their time, and struck back. Though their devotion to Bushido impressed the entire nation, the Shogun had no choice by to give them the most lenient sentence that he could – committing ceremonial suicide.

It is a fantastic book with real depth and contextualises the culture for a gaijin such as myself.

The Smoking Gun has alleged summary of evidence on what has been uncovered in the Michael Jackson case here and it makes for disturbing reading that is also strangely compelling, see for yourself here. By their own admission this report is based on the review of documentation provided by sources who allegedly had access to secretl police and government reports, grand jury testimony, and sealed court records. It may be true,or The Smoking Gun may have been hoaxed.