Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Books Like Whoa: The Magicians, by Lev Grossman

It's time for a book review, book review, book review! (are you imagining the lights flashing and sound cutting in and out? okay, good)

The Magicians
by Lev Grossman

Procured from Barnes & Nobles (don't judge me - I was weak from Borders withdrawal) from the $5 rack

Procured in Spring 2011

Finished on September 10, 2011 (this was my Hurricane Irene book)

Format: A really beautiful hardcover... one of the best covers I've seen

Summary: Everyone I've heard pitch this has characterized it as a grown up version of Harry Potter meets Narnia. Wow. Intrigued, party of 1! Basically, this Brooklyn kid Quentin finds out that he may have the potential to be a magician, so he is whisked away to take an entrance/proficiency exam for a university of magic. Here's a spoiler: he gets in. Hijinks ensue.

Thoughts: Okay, people, this book was made to be sold to book nuts like me. Grown up version of Harry Potter meets Narnia? Have I ever had a book I was more predisposed to love? I was jonesing to get my paws on this once I realized that it's the first in a trilogy. Alas, this very nearly got thrown across the room within 15 pages. Seriously. I almost gave up 15 pages in, which is my record. Because here's the thing - I hate. hate. hate. the main character. I'll give credit where it's due - I don't think that this is unintentional, at least not totally. I do believe that Grossman is in control of his story enough to purposefully decide that we aren't going to like this kid.

However, I don't think that some of my reasons for hating Quentin are intentional. For instance, the reason that I almost chucked it after barely cracking double digits was that the characters are introduced through showing rather than telling. It would be as if I started my novel by saying, "Oh, Susie, I love that you're my friend because you are so kind and funny, even if my intellectual superiority causes some tensions between us at times, especially in academic settings." No, really. There is dialogue not too far off from this. I also really did not enjoy the way he pays "homage" (and that's a generous term for the blatant take off) to the Narnia books, because Grossman seems to have such raw disdain for the original text. Dude, if you are writing something that is almost an exact replica of another author's universe (not to mention one that is meant to be an allegory for billions of people's religious beliefs), maybe you could not *oh so subtly* spend pages tearing into that author's work and ideology. And actually, I think that the fictionalized author of the ripped off world gets dissed, too, so you're also mocking the author himself. It just came off as kind of rude and creatively lazy to me.

On the other hand... I kept turning the pages. I really could not put this thing down. Grossman has some pacing problems, but weirdly, maybe they aren't problems, because I kept plodding through the draggy parts to get back to the action. There are some lazy, distract-from-lack-of-plot-through-gratuitous-sex moments that I found, well, odd (hint: they involved animals that were poeple. Yeah.), but overall, I did want to know what happened, so that's to Grossman's credit, considering how much I detested his POV character. There were also brief moments of truly beautiful prose; though, those moments were hidden under piles of paragraphs that remind me strongly of the verbiage in my freshman "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" themes.

In terms of genre, I think that this book was sold to me as literature + genre really hurt my ability to enjoy it. I think I would have been much more forgiving of the book's flaws if I wasn't expecting it to transcend tropes or have uniformly excellent prose.

I've been told that the sequel addresses a lot of the issues that I'm bringing up here, so maybe it will be a library read at some point. But right now, I have very little motivation to do that. I think what  said in my Goodreads review sums it up: Overall, I'd say that The Magicians does not really succeed as a work of art and only barely succeeds as a work of entertainment.


2 - It's bad, y'all, with tantalizing glimpses of something worthwhile sprinkled in

Tune in next time, when hopefully I'll find something more positive to say about grown up wizards!

I know a lot of people loved this book... so what I am missing? Do you think that The Magicians has more to it than I was able to find?

Barnes & Noble:

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