(I read a lot, but I don’t often write about what I read. So I apologize in advance that this is even more awkward and less coherent than usual.)
Let’s begin with The Magicians, by Lev Grossman. I think I liked it. I’m not really sure. Either way, it did quite the number on me. I was very uncomfortable being forced into the head of Quentin, the protagonist, simply because he’s so much like I’m afraid I’m like at my worst. He’s a lazy, privileged, depressed, self-pitying genius who doesn’t relate well to the world. While I was reading the book, I lost some sleep, and felt fragile and moody and at the mercy of my own critical self-reflection for some time even after I was done. Since the nerve of mine that the book touched was so exposed already, I have a hard time saying whether the book actually did a good job, or if I was just an easy target.
There is an odd, distracting structural quirk to the novel. Because the book covers so much ground so quickly – four years of magical school, months of post-graduation partying and laying about, and then a quest in a magical realm, all in 400 pages – it doesn’t feel like it has the same scope and depth as the fantasy epics which it riffs on. This is not inherently bad, but it meant that I ended up thinking a lot while I was reading about the construction of the book – why particular events and characters were included in the book. It drained away some of the potential depth from the world and the characters. Granted, Quentin is so much in his own head, and has so much trouble acknowledging the inner lives of the other characters that there is this internal limiter as to how deep the characters can be, anyways. But it nonetheless added a layer of artificiality that kept me from thoroughly immersing myself in the book. (Or perhaps my getting stuck up on this is a defense mechanism to keep myself from the further spiral of negative emotions that would have come from my being immersed.) Likewise, the book has an odd internal self-justification for any of its episodes that initially seemed contrived. But that still makes doesn’t make me any less conscious of the author’s hand in the book’s construction.
And lastly, it was cute how the last third of the book looked like it would be a pretty straight Narnia parody, but then in addition turned out to be a rather well-executed D&D adventure.