The Courtly Charms of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

As soon as Susanna Clarke‘s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell became available in local bookstores, I immediately shifted to active search mode. Its hefty price and sheer weight (which can be hard on your wrist) gave me some pause at first, but after reading several glowing reviews I threw caution to the wind and bought a hardbound copy.

So was it worth the hassle? You bet. In spades.

I was barely halfway into the first chapter when I realized that I was truly ensnared with no hope of turning back. I raced through that 782-page book like a hound on a scent mission. After finishing Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell in 1 and 1/2 days (I still had to report for work), I went through it again. This time, I savored every page and sniffed every meandering twist and turn of the fantasy tale — yes, even the footnotes.

I’d been trying to convince a lot of people since then to read Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, but except for a couple of sci-fi/fantasy geeks it didn’t really catch on among my friends and colleagues. Oddly enough, only a few people seemed to appreciate its charms. I think the book’s sheer length and weight, as well as Susanna Clarke’s writing style (which mirrors the style and conventions adopted by many authors of that era — particularly Jane Austen) must have put them off.

This, of course, baffled me. After I had raved about it for weeks, a friend finally asked me why I liked it so much. For some reason, that question floored me for a few seconds. I mean, how do you explain why you like something without sounding like an obsessive nutcase? I finally replied, “Just read it.”

I could have told him several things: Susanna Clarke’s storytelling gifts, the elegant way she paints a scene (which would normally take lesser authors many paragraphs to convey and many years to perfect), and her beguiling way of convincing you that such things are actually possible.

The thing about Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is that Ms. Clarke unfolds her tale with a deceptively reasonable and gently (and at other times, sly) teasing tone, it makes you want to believe these remarkable events with frightening ease. It’s like being invited into a parlor and ushered into a comfortable chair facing a nice, warm fireplace; before long, you just want to settle in and not ever want to leave. The story feels alien and comfortingly familiar at the same time.

I suppose that my fondness for Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell can be partly traced to my lingering affection for Jane Austen’s books (well, some of them at least) and the fact that I like fantasy/sci-fi books in general. I have also devoured Georgette Heyer’s books, which are an excellent source of social vignettes and humor during the Regency period. In addition, Ms. Clarke managed to infuse her tale with some of the period’s famous historical figures, which is always an excellent way of grounding a story (despite the fact that it’s a revisionist tale).

I wish there were more books like this. Which reminds me, Susanna Clarke’s latest book, The Ladies of Grace Adieu, a collection of short stories relating to Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell’s story line, is also out. (Naturally, I have a copy of that, too.)



Color Me Cranky

Sometimes a bizarre confluence of innocuous events can throw your day into a disarray and turn you into a grouchy wet blanket. LOL! This happens to me occasionally; usually it doesn’t last that long and I tend to just laugh it off when the moment passes.

The slight drizzle was fast turning into a strong downpour when I finally managed to reach Starbucks (in the southern reaches of the metro). The dead weight that comprised my laptop and a small paper bag containing a number of purchases was beginning to feel like a punishment, so I was grateful for the chance to be relieved of my burden, and to sip something hot.

Today, Starbucks was a bit crowded than usual, so it took me a while to find a vacant table — the only one that was available, in fact. The bad news was, it was right smack in the middle (the most crowded part) of the joint, with barely enough room to squeeze through and was far from a convenience outlet. To top it all, my laptop’s batteries were badly in need of a recharge.

After claiming my order at the bar, I went back to my table. I kept glancing in all directions in hopes that somebody soon would (pretty please!) vacate a table within the vicinity of any electrical outlet — but my feeble hopes soon dried up. Nobody was budging from their seat! And with the rain outside, I was basically stuck where I was.

I don’t know exactly what it is about not finding the right table (when I really need it most) that turns me into a downright unreasonable, cranky malcontent. Pretty soon, I was eyeing the whole room with barely concealed hostility.

Darn it, why doesn’t anyone leave? Surely most of these people have been here long enough? It looks like most of them are already done with their drinks anyway, so why do they have to stay? Don’t they have somewhere else to go? (I grumpily coursed through this inward conversation, conveniently forgetting the fact that I do the same thing regularly and probably behave even worse without being aware of it. *snicker*)

It didn’t take long for my ire to find a convenient target: a couple of tables away was a group of five middle-aged guys who had dragged two tables together, and were talking and laughing loudly. And just behind them was an electrical outlet that no one could get to because they were decidedly in the way! I balefully noted that for all the racket they were making, only ONE of them had actually bothered to order a drink! And they are carrying on like they owned the place, I grumbled to myself.

About 20 minutes later, they stood up (halleluiah!) and headed for the door — but wait. Aaarrgh! I rejoiced too soon. One of them (the guy who ordered a drink) elected to stay behind. Deflated at this turn of  events, I settled down again. So what do I do next? Mentally heaping curses on my rotten luck, I tried mental telepathy on the guy (I figured, it just might work, you know?)

You need to go home. You must go home. HOME, you hear? Right this instant…

Proving his utter disregard for, and imperviousness to, my monumental efforts at telepathy, the guy yawned and continued reading his newspaper.

*sigh* So much for that superpower.

Boracay: Third Time’s the Charm

I’ve been to Boracay a couple of times before, and each time I leave I always make a mental note to come back as soon as I can. Yet, for some weird reason I have never run out of excuses to delay (and eventually cancel) those travel plans.

As I was preparing for my third visit to this world-famous island, I began to realize — and finally admit to myself — that my reluctance is somehow predicated on the fact that I did not want to get too familiar with the place by coming here too often. I wanted to retain some of that sense of delight and discovery when I first beheld its white sandy beaches. If I had given in to my wishes and came as often as I wanted, I think Boracay would have quickly lost its appeal to me.

As we prepared to board the ferry boat to the island (from Caticlan), I started to feel better. Yes. I’m glad I came back. It was definitely high time I renewed acquaintance with Boracay. I was surprised to note that I actually missed the place — heck, even the sea air felt like a welcome nudge.

Another reason that made this trip a bit more special was that this time the whole family was coming. This was going to be a meaningful family get-together, a chance to reestablish and strengthen our bonds. We lost our father to cancer 4 years ago, and his absence has been sorely felt since then. Things have been so different without him. My mother, one of the most pragmatic people I know, has been uncharacteristically sentimental lately and is starting to show her age (lost weight and forgetfulness; we’re keeping our fingers crossed that she’ll stay with us for a long time). However, she is rather fond of this place because she has had many happy memories here with my father, siblings, and her grandkids.

Continue reading

Movies Titles Containing the Word “Coffee”

Two of my main interests are coffee and movies. Although I haven’t been watching movies that much lately, my interest in them remains; and, of course, coffee is part of my daily routine, so there you go.

This is by no means a long list — I am basically focusing on those films whose titles contain the word “coffee” and have been released somewhat recently (and are listed and briefly described here in chronological order).

1. Chinese Coffee (2000)

Chinese Coffee is an indie film released during the 2000 Tribeca Film Festival, and then released officially in 2007. This was directed by Al Pacino, who also stars in the movie along with Jerry Orbach.

Continue reading