The Magicians, by Lev GrossmanPosted: July 30, 2011
The Magicians by Lev Grossman is an interesting read, to use an ambiguous filler word with very little meaning attached to it. I’m not sure I could say I technically “enjoyed” reading the novel, but I certainly liked the book. It’s complicated to discuss because I found the main character distinctly unlikable.
An overview: At the opening of the book, Quentin is on his way for a pre-college interview with a Yale alum. Through a series of unsettling events, he finds himself walking out of wintery Brooklyn and into a place where it is summertime. Quentin, a die-hard fan of the children’s book series “Fillory and Further,” thinks his dream has come true: he has somehow arrived in the magical land of Fillory. He soon finds out that he is in fact in upstate New York, at Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy. Though he has not found Fillory, Quentin finds that magic is indeed real. The rest of the novel follows Quentin as he makes his way through Brakebills and is sent out into the world, where he is overcome by the ennui that affects many a young, privileged wizard. Finally, the adventure Quentin craves finds him, and he has achieved his heart’s desire. Or has he?
My main issue with this book is Quentin’s supreme unhappiness and obvious self-loathing. Okay, yes, a book about magic can have a character that is not pure, true of heart and full of warm-and-fuzzies all the time. But for goodness sake, Quentin, buck up! You’d think that he would pick up a few shreds of self-esteem along the way. But no, he’s like Debbie Downer’s offspring. Crack a smile once in a while, kid.
At first, to be honest, Quentin’s self-loathing was a refreshing character to read about; he’s unsure, shy and socially awkward. In short, he could be a real 18-year-old. But by the last 100 pages or so, his spectacular unhappiness is stale, especially when his wildest dreams keep coming true. Of course, analytically, we could say that this is a comment on the fact that maybe dreams should stay elusive because their true value comes from the struggle to achieve them, and all that ‘be careful what you wish for’ stuff. In reality, Quentin’s character could stand to be a touch more likable.
All this is not to say that I didn’t like the book. I did like it, very much. I will read the sequel when it comes out. The Magician King comes out this fall. The Magicians is clever and creative, but not a children’s book at all. This is definitely an adult novel. It attempts (mostly successfully) to incorporate magic into otherwise ordinary lives of young adults beset by ordinary problems. It’s definitely worth reading. If you grew up reading the Harry Potter books, as I did, you may be searching for a new, exciting and equally magical book to read now that all of the Potter books and movies are out. This is a worthy book to fill the need. It’s not a replacement, of course, and it doesn’t seek to be one. It is a creative book meant for adults, populated with strong, flawed characters and a magical world that is distinct from Potter’s universe while still nodding to that tradition.