A new kind of magic

The Magicians, by Lev Grossman (2009)

There’s a guy that rides the same bus as me who will talk to anybody who will listen (and sometimes even when no one will). The other day I was reading this book waiting for the bus, and Talker sat down next to me. After telling me about his daughter, his wife in Iraq, and how the chocolate bar he was eating was way too expensive at $1.09, he asked me if what I was reading was a good book. I paused, looked down at page 304 that I was reading from, and realized I wasn’t sure.

“I think so,” I answered.

“Well, I’d hope so, since you’re already that far in!”

I’ve been having a lot of those lately. I read enough of a book that I’m committed, but by the end, I’m not really sure I liked it. Mockingjay, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Savvy…I don’t know if I really liked any of them.

I started reading The Magicians this summer while I was bored to tears on a Sunday night behind the cash register. It was on the “Books to Know” table by the front of the store and the back said it was like Narnia and Harry Potter and something else I was unfamiliar with all rolled into one. Sounded good to me.

Quentin Coldwater is seventeen years old, in love with his best friend’s girl, frustrated with his nothing life, and still obsessed with his favorite childhood book series, Fillory (a.k.a. Narnia). After his university interview falls through (when the alum dies suddenly) he gets lost in an old, dying garden and wanders onto the grounds of a magic school, Brakebills. There he is asked to take an exam to determine if he’s a good fit for the school and if he passes, he will be trained to become a magician. Not a card trick magician. A for real magician. (If you’re more familiar with J.K. Rowling than C.S. Lewis, think “wizard.”) And since Quentin doesn’t feel like he has much going for him in his regular life, he’s like, “Hells yeah, I wanna be a magician.” Without so much as au revoir to Mom and Pops, Quentin enrolls into Brakebills Academy with confidence that his  real life is about to begin. And the reader thinks so, too.

But not so much. And then later, after he falls in love, Quentin/the reader thinks again that his life is about to begin.

And then later, after he graduates, Quentin/the reader thinks again that his life is about to begin.

And then later, when he goes to _____ (I don’t want to give any spoilers), Quentin/the reader thinks again that his life is about to begin.

Perhaps this was Lev Grossman’s intent. His lack of plot points and increasing let-downs are meant to reflect Quentin’s struggle with his dissatisfaction with his own life. This way the reader truly got in touch with the character.

Unfortunately, that just meant I was dissatisfied with The Magicians.

The one thing I did appreciate from this book was the idea that books we read as children (such as Quentin’s Fillory experiences) can have a lasting impression on us for the rest of our lives. Books can shape who we are and who we become in a way that a parent or guardian cannot.

Interesting, but not quite interesting enough. One star.

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