Powells.com & The Morning News Present


Susanna Clarke (Doubleday)

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

vs. Heir to the Glimmering World

Cynthia Ozick (Houghton Mifflin)

Judged by Mark Sarvas

The Contenders:

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

Strengths: This Jane Austen-flavored tale of battling 19th-century English magicians is energetic and sure-footed, sly and witty, and contains multitudes.

Weaknesses: The multitudes overwhelm, leaving one wanting less. And despite its verve, the story is disappointingly conventional. Then there are the footnotes. You either love them or you hate them. I hate them—they disrupt and disturb, often meandering across pages.

Heir to the Glimmering World

Strengths: Also contains multitudes but does so deftly, with subtlety and profundity. Cultures clash, worlds are broken apart, and exiles try to find their place. An intellectual tour de force punctuated with Ozick’s trademark dry wit.

Weaknesses: The disparate narrative threads seem to rest slightly uneasily with one another—although perhaps that’s something of Ozick’s point—and while she pulls it together by the end, a nagging sense of slight disjointedness lingers.

The Winner:

Heir to the Glimmering World

Reasoning: Perhaps it’s unfair to pit 19th-century magicians against Jewish exiles from Nazi Germany, but Heir to the Glimmering World is a deeper, richer, and more satisfying outing than the cotton candy of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Strange is a Saturday matinee, a diverting thrill ride, but Heir is a substantial book of ideas that lingers in memory.



Judge: Mark Sarvas
Age: 40
Types of books you tend to read frequently:
Contemporary literary fiction.
Types of books you rarely read:
Thrillers about lawyers.
Favorite book of all time:
Good god, what a question! Shooting from the hip, this week it would be Lolita.