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Book Report: The Magicians

So. Lev Grossman's The Magicians is the critically-acclaimed fantasy-for-grupps at the moment. It made me grouchy.

One problem with it is that it's rather good. Mr. Grossman come up with a really clever line every few dozen pages, and some magnificent images here and there, and I certainly was surprised by what happened, pretty much throughout the book. Well, surprised and irritated, mostly.

The big problem is that our main character, Quentin, is unlikable in all the ways that main characters are unlikable in the kinds of critically-acclaimed books that make me cranky. He's self-critical, misogynist, irresponsible, fearful, small-minded and aimless. Realistically so! It's a triumph of the art, painting a character in words that is so nasty to be with.

The whole thing feels to me like a book written to be a grown-up version of the Harry Potter and Narnia series—as it clearly was. But the reaction seemed to be that the Hogwarts and Narnia, as places, were too charming, too pleasant to read about, and most of all, too much fun. Real magic, Mr. Grossman seems to be saying, wouldn't be fun at all. So he wrote a book chock full of magic with no fun at all. Which I suppose is an achievement, of sorts.

Lois McMaster Bujold, in a review of a book I haven't read yet, wrote something interesting:

There exists a quality of a book that I do not have a name for; it is approached by terms like “mode” and “voice” and “the writer’s world-view”, but isn’t quite any of these. I short-hand it as, “What kind of head-space am I going to be stuck in now? ” And is it one I that will enjoy being stuck in?

I would call it the sensibility of the book, I guess. Some books are charming, some books are melancholy, some books are light-hearted or great-spirited or kind. Some books are mean. This is a mean book.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.

Comments

Agreed all round. I didn't like it, and it wasn't that I thought it was badly written. I just didn't particularly enjoy anything about it, because the people were all unpleasant.


Sigh. That was me, agreeing with you and forgetting to say anything about who I am.


I keep wanting to write up a comment, here, but apparently the part of my brain that words is break. I find these books (and yes, I've read all three) to be incredibly frustrating because there are such moments of genius -- both in writing and in the understanding of characters -- but they fail to be used to good ends. To bad ends, I think, even, though unintentionally. I wish we could talk about these over a relaxed lunch or something. Halfway point is, what, St. Louis? The kids are big "(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66" fans, I could possibly sell it for a weekend trip.


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