Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Jackie read The Magicians last year and liked it so much she bought me a copy for Christmas. Here's her review.

I finally got around to reading it myself. Jackie's review sums up quite well what I felt about it, for the most part. On balance, I liked it very much: I loved the first part, where Quentin's a student at Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy, which is almost half the book; the second half just devolves into a spiral of depression and philosophy and an extended section that reads like a scripted D&D adventure--probably on purpose, but I wasn't impressed.

The writing is very good throughout, but Grossman seems more interested in exploring his world than in making us care about it. As Jackie pointed out in her review, none of the characters are particularly likable, but I found most of them fascinating in one way or another. I liked Quentin until he graduated and turned into all the shiftless, drunken twenty-something guys I've ever known, and then in the latter sections of the book he just has no personality whatsoever. I should point out that I'm one of those people who cries very easily, especially when I'm reading, even when I'm reading really stupid books that I shouldn't be so emotionally invested in. But I didn't shed a single tear while reading The Magicians.

I'm trying hard to pinpoint my dissatisfaction with the book without making it sound like I was dissatisfied throughout. I can't stress enough how brilliant the first half of the book is. It perfectly captures the feeling of being a bright, unhappy college student without a meaningful future; it even perfectly captures the way bright, unhappy twenty-something guys act after college when their meaningless future turns into a meaningless present. It's when the story turns more definitively to fantasy that it falls apart. I got the impression that Grossman just didn't quite know how to end a book that's basically about how people remain unhappy even when they've got everything they've ever wanted.

It's a bleak book, but it's often very funny. The worldbuilding is excellent. And on a plus side, it probably won't make you cry.

B&N link

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