The Dog Doesn’t Die

Book reviews & random thoughts

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of The Magicians, by Lev Grossman

This is the most derivative book I have ever read — and I loved it! I envision Lev Grossman sitting around on the floor, mildly wacked out from something or other, telling a friend “Rowling should have made Hogwarts a college and had them all go to Narnia after they graduated.” And the friend tells him to quit babbling and write it, and then he does. It probably didn’t happen that way, but however it came about, The Magicians was a brilliant mash-up of Harry Potter, the Chronicles of Narnia, The Secret History, and Less Than Zero, with some of Grossman’s own ideas smushed into the whole concoction. (I came close to adding the “satire” tag, by the way. But the book is too earnest for that.)

So … Quinten Coldwater, a glum but slightly hopeful high school math genius, abruptly finds himself taking an exam for a college he’d never imagined — a magic college called Brakebills, located somewhere in New York. Q, as his friends call him, is also obsessed with the Narnia-like stories of several siblings visiting a land called Fillory. After completing Brakebills’ five-year program, he discovers that he has the equivalent of a master’s degree in uselessness and joins his fellow young magicians in New York for drunken dissipation. But then one of his college BFFs finds the way into Fillory, which actually exists. So Q and seven others head there, finding that it is a dark and hellish place rather than the charming fantasy land they’d read about.

Q isn’t a joyful, upbeat protagonist. Sometimes I wondered what the hell he was whining about. For example, he didn’t understand his parents, and their “failure” to live up to some unspoken, impossible ideal was never explained. They lived their lives, appeared to care about and support him, and for that Q convinced himself he’d had an unhappy childhood. Whatever. He’s not someone most of us would want to hang out with. On the other hand, he held himself to extremely high standards, and his struggle to meet those standards made him fascinating.

As for other characters, the “Ron” to Q’s “Harry” was a chain-smoking, gay, alcoholic genius/magician, and the shy-but-talented “Hermione” was one of the best young female characters I’ve read in a long time. However, I think the direct comparisons are unfair to Grossman. The blurb on the back of the paperback describes The Magicians as “one of the most daring and inventive works of literary fantasy in years.” And I have to agree. Grossman left himself lots of space for at least one sequel, and I can’t wait to read it. I strongly recommend this book.

As for animals, there were no animal characters in the story and really no bad incidents involving animals. Fireflies, spiders, and mice don’t fare too well in some of the practice sessions, though the magicians try to, and often do, restore them to life. So this book is SAFE for animal lovers. Enjoy!


July 10, 2010 - Posted by | beach book, Book Reviews | , , , ,

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