I almost put this book away after reading the first few chapters and then reading some of the reviews...almost. But I decided to persevere because I wanted to write a review and of course, I couldn't do that without reading the entire book. Regardless, I found "The Magicians" to be a painful read, but before I explain why, a little about the book itself. So, here goes;
Think of "The Magicians" as an R-rated, darker version of "Harry Potter". Also, in Lev Grossman's Potter-like world, happiness is an abstract if not elusive concept. Life is seemingly empty and meaningless. But...I digress.
In The Magicians, the author, Lev Grossman introduces us to Quentin Coldwater, an extremely intelligent (and equally unhappy) New York City teenager. While going to an interview for a prestigious prep school, he receives instead an invitation to Brakebills which turns out to be a college of magic. Passing the rigorous entrance exam, Quentin sails through his five years of college, forming relationships with fellow would-be magicians and eventually falling in love with Alice...a girl his equal it seems, when it comes to unhappiness and unfulfillment.
Lots of drinking, drug use, recreational sex, and naturally, frequent use of the "F" word, abound in The Magicians. Parents are portrayed as stupid, clueless creatures, and the entire novel dripped with so much narcissism, it at times left me looking for a towel to dry off with. To illustrate this, here is a quote from Janet, a character in the book; "We hate ourselves and we hate each other and sometimes we wish you or whoever had never created us".
The best part of the book was when Quentin and his fellow magicians discover Fillory, a mythical world chronicled in a series of children's books. The parallel to C.S. Lewis' Narnia series is obvious, although Grossman's rants against Christianity and all things spiritual are constant themes in The Magicians. But even here, once Fillory is discovered and the young magicians go on a heroic quest to save the kingdom, the result is somewhat less than satisfying, as well as a bit disjointed and well...confusing.
I found it hard to like Quentin (or any of the main characters for that matter). It's one thing to be portrayed as an unsympathetic "anti-hero", but Grossman takes his Quentin character to an extreme that I simply couldn't relate to. A more neurotic, cynical character than Quentin would be hard to come by in any of the novels I have read.
And finally, there is this. I happen to be one of those readers who simply don't appreciate profanity for profanity's sake in a book. Sometimes it has it's place and sometimes it does not. There has to be a reason and a purpose for dialogue...that's what good writing is all about. When Rhett Butler told Scarlett in Gone With the Wind that, "frankly Scarlett, I don't give a damn", it added a panache that somehow doesn't have the same ring if "darn" was used instead. But when profanity is used like a club with such frequency as in "The Magicians", one begins to suspect it is being used as a crutch rather than as support or as an allegory for good dialogue. In other words, Mr. Grossman, it was not necessary.
The most unfortunate part of The Magicians is that Lev Grossman obviously has a GREAT imagination. But it was like he couldn't quite pull it all together...like a jello mold that doesn't quite congeal. Very disappointing.
I did not like this book, but based on the last part in which Fillory is discovered, I will stretch my rating to two stars.