Sunday, February 19, 2012

Book Review: The Magicians

The MagiciansThe Magicians by Lev Grossman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Probably more like 3.5 stars, though I'm not sure how I could possibly be lukewarm on this novel, since most everyone who's rated and reviewed it seems to either love it or hate it.

The novel follows Quentin Coldwater, who begins the novel as an academic all-star (but one who's slightly eclipsed by his best friend both in excellence and in practical matters) in his senior year of high school. An avid reader of fantasy--particularly a Narnia-like fantasy about a land called Fillory--in his younger days (and still one, albeit as a guilty pleasure), he is invited to take a test to get into a very exclusive college: one that teaches magic (which turns out to be real, obviously). In a sense, the rest of the novel is an exploration of the Wilde maxim about one of the great tragedies in life being to get your heart's desire. In another sense, you might say it's a character study of the varieties of brilliant, over-achieving nihilists.

It is, no doubt about it, a dark novel. Calling it "Harry Potter for adults" is less accurate than to call it a deconstruction of Harry Potter. There's no Dark Lord to defeat here--well, there sort of is in the end, but not really. The darkness to be fought comes from within one's self as one reacts to a world that can never seem to measure up to the fantasies of childhood, that never seems to have the heroic spirit we imagine for it as children.

Magic, in the end, isn't so magical as Quentin thinks. It's hard work, tedious work. It rarely solves problems of any real importance, and it ultimately has nothing to say about giving a life meaning, fulfillment, or happiness. I had originally understood The Magicians to be a stand-alone novel, even though I knew it was followed by The Magician King. However, given how little real growth Quentin manages, that character arc itself makes the novel feel less than complete, even if the plot elements are fairly well wrapped up. He's been through a lot, he's changed a bit, but has he grown? Not really. But then, perhaps that's all part and parcel of deconstructing the naive fantasies of childhood and of, well, naive fantasies.

It doesn't mean I have to approve it.

But anyway, I did enjoy it well enough on its own terms--well enough that I'll pick up The Magician King.

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1 comment:

  1. I agree. 3 stars, which is an average score. Good, but not great. Not the kind of book that has you reading until the wee hours. But a good solid effort, nonetheless.