“Ah, I envy you, sir,” said Mr. Norrell. “Indeed I do. The practice of magic is full of frustrations and disappointments, but the study is a continual delight! All of England’s great magicians are one’s companions and guides. Steady labour is rewarded by increase of knowledge and, best of all, one need not so much as look upon another of one’s fellow creatures from one month’s end to the next if one does not wish it!” –Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell / Susannah Clarke
I began rereading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell last week after having trudged through three mediocre books that left me wanting something meatier. This is my second time through and at 29% of the way I’m convinced that although the book is theoretically about magic, it’s actually a giant satire about writing and the world of writers.
“Oh!” said Strange. “I think that the quicker one gets these things out of one’s brain and on to the paper and off to the printers, the better. … Mr. Norrell, who had never yet got any thing successfully out of his brain and off to the printers, whose every attempt was still at some stage or other of revision, said nothing.
It bothers me just how much of myself I see in Norrell, the fussy old grump who never lets anything go, never finishes anything and still holds forth as though he were as great or greater a magician than anyone else. Especially after the exacting reviews I’ve written of recent books. As I lie in bed last night trying to fall asleep and simultaneously writing the next section of my book it occurred to me just how much it will break my heart to see the soul of this book out there before I finish it.
I keep having these wonderful ideas only to find out that they are, somewhere else, being done already and either being done very well or very poorly. In either case it makes me flinch and hold back on my work. Do I want to be yet another novel with an Amish protagonist? Do I want to be yet another novel with a mermaid?
But then, at the bottom of it, I know that what I fear most is being Mr. Norrell. And that is who, at present, I most resemble.