I wasn't in the mood to read anything in my mental queue yesterday, and then scrolling through my e-book reader I saw Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and decided it was just the thing.
Wow, Susanna Clarke has such a wonderful touch with characterization. For instance:
Mr Robinson was a polished sort of person. He was so clean and healthy and pleased about everything that he positively shone — which is only to be expected in a fairy or an angel, but is somewhat disconcerting in an attorney.
Childermass assured him that the time was propitious and Childermass knew the world. Childermass knew what games the children on street-corners are playing — games that all other grown-ups have long since forgotten. Childermass knew what old people by firesides are thinking of, though no one has asked them in years. Childermass knew what young men hear in the rattling of the drums and the tooting of the pipes that makes them leave their homes and go to be soldiers — and he knew the half-eggcupful of glory and the barrelful of misery that await them. Childermass could look at a smart attorney in the street and tell you what he had in his coat-tail pockets. And all that Childermass knew made him smile; and some of what he knew made him laugh out loud; and none of what he knew wrung from him so much as ha’pennyworth of pity.
“You must get me a house, Childermass,” he said. “Get me a house that says to those that visit it that magic is a respectable profession — no less than Law and a great deal more so than Medicine.”
Childermass inquired drily if Mr Norrell wished him to seek out architecture expressive of the proposition that magic was as respectable as the Church?
Mr Norrell (who knew there were such things as jokes in the world or people would not write about them in books, but who had never actually been introduced to a joke or shaken its hand) considered a while before replying at last that no, he did not think they could quite claim that.
Just in the first four chapters. If I wanted to write fiction, I might have to stop reading out of sheer envy.