Monday, September 5, 2011

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Published 2009.

Quentin Coldwater is brilliant but miserable. A high school math genius, he's secretly fascinated with a series of children's fantasy novels set in a magical land called Fillory, and real life is disappointing by comparison. When Quentin is unexpectedly admitted to an elite, secret college of magic, it looks like his wildest dreams may have come true. But his newfound powers lead him down a rabbit hole of hedonism and disillusionment, and ultimately to the dark secret behind the story of Fillory. The land of his childhood fantasies turns out to be much darker and more dangerous than he ever could have imagined . . . (book back blub)

This book was pegged as HARRY POTTER for adults. If by HARRY POTTER they meant that a seemingly ordinary boy gets admitted to a school for magical folk, then yes, it's HARRY POTTER-esque. But that's where the similarities end. THE MAGICIANS felt like it was a bastardization of THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA as written by Faulkner while throwing up at the end of a long night. If you don't get the Faulkner reference, there isn't a story of his where alcohol doesn't have a very prominent presence. It's EVERYWHERE in THE MAGICIANS. I don't have a problem with that but, well, Grossman isn't Faulkner. I'm not some literary snoot or anything but let's face it, 'Hills Like White Elephants' is pretty epic. THE MAGICIANS is, well, not.

I was so disappointed in this book, moreso than probably any other book I've read. I was a fan of roughly one and a half characters of the ensemble cast that did nothing but pity themselves, drink too much, screw up each others' lives and then get everything handed to them, which they would then complain about. Alice, while a bit of a mouse, ended up being the best out of all of them, and by a pretty large margin. She was strong where the others were extraordinarily weak and saw the good in everyone with hardly a complaint. She was followed not-too-closely by Josh who really didn't do much except exhibit erratic magical ability but he wasn't an asshole so he gets kudos in my book. The rest? Janet was a twat that I was rooting for to die by the end of it. Eliot's a petulant child that held absolutely no interest to me and Richard was your stereotypical suede elbows academic that really needed to just shut the hell up. And Quentin? I have never seen a character pity himself so much in my life. Oh woe is him for how absolutely shitty his life is despite the fact he never did a damn thing to earn a better one. I HATED Quentin and that poses a pretty major problem considering he's the main effing character. He wasn't even endearing in his douchery. He was just a dick that projected his issues onto everyone else and barely took responsibility for anything he did.

I almost gave up on the book just past the halfway point simply because it was plotless. I had no idea where the story was going and I couldn't even fathom an educated guess. Quentin went through school, made friends, graduated and then went insane with drinking, drugs and sex. And then . . . ? No and then! The plot itself doesn't actually make an appearance until just past the halfway point where the kids get off their self-indulgent asses and do something with themselves. But when they did they didn't actually earn anything they got, or survived. Other people did the fighting for them, a deus ex machina comes in just before the climax to save them and the story kicks itself in the nuts and ruptures a testicle when it makes a sacrifice that NO ONE is appreciative of. What am I supposed to find appealing about this, exactly? These kids get everything, earn none of it and then complain about their lives the entire fucking time. For the love of god . . .

In the beginning I was roped in. I liked the voice. That was probably the best part of the book. The overall tone and self-deprecating air the voice took hooked me in. But when Quentin didn't stop complaining and he made some really crappy friends and the story was aimless for half the book and Quentin was still complaining and completely screwing up his life but blaming other people for it and never ultimately took responsibility for himself but kept on complaining, the voice was drowned out. You can't support a cube with a toothpick, you know.

The world itself was insubstantial. I get that with literary stuff it's much more character-driven but what could have been great opportunities to make the world Quentin was in a little more dynamic, it was brushed aside with horribly bland and sterile description to focus on what kind of wine they were drinking. By the end of the book I felt like the world wasn't in focus, either the Brakebills world or Fillory. In HARRY POTTER the world was its own character. In THE MAGICIANS, it felt like the world didn't matter. The magic was just the tool and didn't need to be explained. As a reader, I just needed to know it was there and that was enough. This world worked differently, I didn't need details. Well, yeah, I do. I didn't give a flying fuck what kind of wine they were drinking or who was screwing who (since it was ultimately irrelevant to the plot, for the most part). What the hell was the world like? Okay, so there's finger-waving and some words and poof, magic happens. And then . . . ? No and then! Fillory's another world that's really green with some talking animals. And then . . . ? No and then! I kept waiting for the world to be expounded upon just a little more and I never got it. But I could tell you what kind of noises Alice made during sex. Right.

I just felt that where there should have been more detail there was next to none and where there was far too much I could have lived without the majority of it. I couldn't stand the majority of the characters, they didn't earn anything they got and the story skimmed from one cover to the other without me really giving a crap. I didn't feel this lived up to the hype at all. Then again comparing it to the likes of HARRY POTTER probably hurt it more in my eyes than anything else. If you want something like HARRY POTTER, then just read HARRY POTTER and then go read some HP smutfic when you're done if you want some sex in it.

Literary ultimately isn't my thing but I can appreciate a good story when I read it. This didn't even have that. And I know literary is much more character-driven than non-literary. But these characters really sucked. So maybe I "didn't get it." I'm sure others will. But if this is what HARRY POTTER for adults is, I'll just stick to HARRY POTTER. Thanks.

Ban Factor: High - due to the general shitting on Christianity, presence of magic and magicians, sex, profanity and drinking
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