Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Magicians

I just finished reading The Magicians by Lev Grossman. I'm disappointed.

The reviews promised "Harry Potter for adults" and "A darker look at a school for wizards." The Magicians definitely lacks the hope, loyalty, and passion found in Harry Potter. Instead, it holds that a person can be bored anywhere. At the beginning of the book, Quentin, the main character, is 17 years old and about to go to Princeton. He skips the Ivy League, though, in favor of a secret and exclusive boarding school for magic. He learns to fly through the air and make objects move with his hands. He is still bored and feels empty.

Quentin graduates and moves to New York City with some of his magician friends. He seeks to fill the void in his life with alcohol, drugs, and sex. He cheats on his talented girlfriend, who loves him. In line with the book's theme, Quentin finds the club scene, his girlfriend, and New York City boring.

Then, Quentin and his friends find a way to transport themselves to the alternate reality of Fillory - think C.S. Lewis's Narnia with minor differences like the original children enter Fillory by walking into a grandfather clock instead of a wardrobe. Quentin explores Fillory and concludes that he is bored.

Essentially, the reader is forced to endure page after page about a depressed, bored, and privileged guy, Quentin, wallowing in self-pity. Even when Quentin goes to school, his ennui is only broken by melodramatic drivel like: "His crush went from exciting to depressing, as if he'd gone from the first blush of infatuation to the terminal nostalgia of a former lover without even the temporary relief of an actual relationship in between." Grossman rips off the settings of fantasy novels, while disavowing that the imagination can excite. In The Magicians, a unicorn or questing horse even seems mundane. Grossman lacks the poetic style and complexity of F. Scott Fitzgerald, but, like Fitzgerald, concentrates on rich, drunken, and spoiled characters. Unlike Fitzgerald, Grossman forgets to make his characters charming. Grossman's characters perform incantations and talk to animals. While seeing, in essence, a trust-fund kid conversing with a goat may sound funny, I assure you that he's bored, the goat's bored, and, ultimately, the reader is bored.

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