Thursday, 26 April 2012

The Magicians - Lev Grossman

I'm just going to say it right off the bat: I have absolutely no idea how I feel about The Magicians. At first, I loved it. Halfway through, though, it started making me uncomfortable. By the end, I was just completely unsure about life. Was that the point?

The basic plot of The Magicians is this: a senior in high school, Quentin Coldwater, is completely disillusioned with life until by chance he ends up going to a magic school in upstate New York for college. Unfortunately, while magic is cool and everything, it's not the end all and be all of life and Quentin soon battles becoming disillusioned by magic, as well.

Now, the first bit of The Magicians is brilliant. Quentin going to school, learning about magic, making friends (and enemies) and just generally being Quentin is quite good. There is one chapter in particular, The Beast, that I loved and think is a brilliant example of encapsulated fear in a single chapter of a book. All the characters, as well, are well drawn and interesting characterized. I especially love Quentin's girl friend/girlfriend, Alice. 

I understand that the whole bit of The Magicians is that it is not just "Harry Potter grown up." It wants to say more and be deeper than that. I'm fine with that. It's just that, all of the sudden, Quentin has somehow become Holden Caulfield of the magical 00s. It just seemed out of place and odd. Not only that, but he began making weird choices that didn't seem to fit with the character we had been getting to know. 

The last bit of the book, while different from the mid-section, was still not enough to drag me back into caring about Quentin. I feel very ambivalent towards him, now and while I have the sequel, The Magician King, I still haven't brought myself around to reading it. Maybe one day.

The pacing in particular is very strange. The book is split into three parts and while each part makes sense on its own, it feels like they could have been fleshed out and turned into a trilogy. Having all three in one book feels a bit much and definitely confuses a reader at first. Quentin goes through five years of magic school in about two hundred pages. There was so much richness there that was missed. His life outside of school was perhaps the right length but the journey he goes on with his friends, as well, could have easily afforded more pages than it got. 

I really wanted to like this book and in some ways, I did. Would I recommend it to a friend, though? I'm not sure. It wasn't what I expected it to be and although I liked parts, others were uncomfortable. You definitely have to be in a certain kind of mood. Especially the bits about the arctic foxes. That was just … yeah. 

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