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Susanna Clarke (Doubleday)

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

vs. The Rope Eater

Ben Jones (Bloomsbury)

Judged by Kevin Guilfoile

There were two kinds of novels I liked best when I was young. The first was the historical, sea-faring adventure, like the Jack Aubrey stories or any book with “mutiny” in the title. The Rope Eater is another great example. The narrator is a Union Army deserter and hobo who signs on to a mysterious Arctic voyage but, like everyone in the 1800s, he can write like the dickens: “Around the ship, lumpy ridges of ice cast achromatic shadows; the whistling call of a skua echoed over the ice occasionally but we saw no walrus or seals; lures idly cast overboard dragged through the greasy slush and caught nothing.” Somebody get that swabbie to a poetry slam.

The other kind of book I enjoyed was the epic fantasy. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is one of these, and it’s also terrific. Clarke’s is an imagined biography of two men who bring magic back to England in the early 19th century. It playfully connects a mystical faerie dimension with the Napoleonic Wars and a whole bunch of other British history I’d long forgotten.

When my son is in high school, I’ll direct him to The Rope Eater. It’s an exceptional book and, if he’s like me, he’ll be glad for having read it. If he’s very much like me, however, by then he’ll have discovered Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell all on his own.


Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

Judge: Kevin Guilfoile
Age: 36
Types of books you tend to read frequently:
"Deep police procedurals with two intriguing twists starring a wonderful protagonist and a weird but intriguing suspect."
Types of books you rarely read:
Sadly, I read all of them.
Favorite book of all time:
The Moviegoer by Walker Percy.