Cindy's Reviews > The Magicians

The Magicians by Lev Grossman
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Aug 08, 15

bookshelves: fantasy, read-in-2009
Read in August, 2009

Okay I am in the minority I didn't really like this book. I didn't think it was going to be a Harry Potter, as a matter of fact I knew it wouldn't be even though it was compared to HP.... the author even compared it to HP which its not.

I can enjoy that this is a "tribute" to fantasy..... but that's about it. It was a depressing poorly written book. Details seemed to be lacking and the only details we'd get is a knock off version of another fantasy book. The characters were one sided and had no personality, they were just a name in a book really.

There was occasional swearing to make this book more adult but really it was unnecessary. Also there was a lot of breast looking and sex which didn't really add to the plot line.

The writing was very poor, there was a lot of repetition to the words. Almost every sentence started with Quenten...... Quenten.....

This was a very big disappointment for me because I would have thought the idea was a great one. The poor writing, and badly executed plot made it a disappointment.

I think this is another case of highly publicized book that is only hype.
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Comments (showing 1-17 of 17) (17 new)

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Drjerseygator Wish I had read your review before I read the book.

Cindy I take it you had a bad experience with it? I still haven't changed my opinion on it, I gave the book a second try and still have the same feelings.

This is a book you're going to either LOVE or hate with a passion I don't think there is a middle road.

Omar Your observation piqued my curiosity, Cindy. I've not yet completed The Magicians, but I'm bearing down heavily on the ending now.

So far my impression of the book is generally positive, but I could see any number of ways that could be radically altered in the closing three chapters - and there have been moments where the author pushed me to the edge of complete frustration, only to radically turn things around at the very threshold of my tolerance.

I can see any number of reasons people might find the story unpleasant (up to the point I've read): the primary character manages to be self-obsessed without ever actually scrutinizing himself, the major characters are almost all train-wrecks of one sort or another, and the constant barrage of Harry Potter material in pop culture leaves the "school of magic" trope feeling worn a bit thin (even in a book that's part homage, part send-up, part critique).

I confess, though, that I was somewhat perplexed by your four specific complaints:

1. Lack of detail - in retrospect, I can see how someone hoping for something in the vein of a J. K. Rowling or C. S. Lewis would find The Magicians intermittent in this regard. I suspect I haven't been bothered by the on-again, off-again descriptiveness because the book is so focused on the selfishness, pain, and self-obsession of many of the major characters. The magical trappings of the world around them are only really important in so much as they penetrate the characters' narcissism.

2. Poor Characterization - most of the main characters have been (to the point of "Book IV") explored pretty thoroughly (particularly for such a short book). Of the main characters Janet's and Anaïs' motivations seem to be the least explicitly stated so far (although Janet's has been partly addressed in the chapter "The Ram"); but even they seem pretty consistent and understandable (if a bit stereotypical). There are many ancillary characters that are pretty much just tropes; but that's the point of a send-up, isn't it?

3. "Adult" content being unnecessary - there's at least two points in the book were sex explicitly pushed forward the action of the plot (I'm thinking of the two great betrayals in the middle of the book - both of directly sexual natures). Other contrivances could have been used, of course, but at least one of these flowed naturally from the previous behaviour of the characters and the second fit well into a "tit-for-tat" sort of way.

4. Repetitiveness - given, there is a whole lot of talking about Quentin; but the book is written from Quentin's perspective (despite being a third person narrative). Since so many of the characters are (as I mentioned before) self-obsessed; I didn't find this jarring. Especially since the story is so light on direct action and so heavy on dialog (with the notable exception of the third book), a lot of proper names seems necessary to keep track of things. In a book that was more descriptive or more action oriented, you might not see proper names so frequently.

As I sat here with The Magicians not yet fully digested and read your observation that it's polarizing; I began to wonder why that might be.

The book isn't the sort that speaks to me in any radical way. I don't personally identify with any of the characters, and they often behave in ways that I find troublesome and distasteful. That said, they're all understandable and I do find it easy to empathize with them; so I'm pulled towards the finale in hopes for a satisfying end.

I wonder if it's the fact that they're not universally identifiable that turns creates this polarizing effect? People who do identify with them might be more willing to overlook their horrible behaviour, while people who don't might be too repulsed by it to enjoy the story?

Or is it more that the difference in enjoyment has to do with expectations? Maybe people who're expecting a fantasy novel that works within the constraints of the genre would be less likely than those who entered the experience expecting something that uses the genre's tropes to subvert the genre's usual boundaries?

You stipulated what you weren't expecting (another "Harry Potter"); but you didn't really say much about what you were expecting. I'd be curious to know. I know that I, personally, came in expecting a more subversive approach - although not in the way it's (so far) turned out to be.

Sorry for the long-windedness!

Drjerseygator Cindy: Yes, not a great experience. I read mostly non-fiction but had my interest piqued by a review on NPR. I would not recommend or re-read this book. I'm pretty particular about the fiction I read.

Omar: Interesting point. The ending was the best part of the book, in my opinion. I think your point regarding the characters being not universally identifiable might be accurate. As an "older" reader (way past my 20's), I have, in life, come to have a harder time tolerating self-absorbed 20 something's. My world view may have severely influenced my reading. I would have loved to have learned more about some of the characters and why they did they things they did, but all we really learned about was Quentin, an uninteresting and unexamined personage. I went into the book hoping for the genre-bending and subversive approach, as you mentioned. It felt very superficial. That said, books allow for many readers to have many opinions, and I hope you enjoy the ending!

Melissa Boilon First of all, this *is* an adult book, so of course there is swearing and sex - these things happen in the real world. If you like books that censor out real life experience, then stick to YA books.

The books is written from Quentin's point-of-view, so of course the books says his name a lot (did you complain when Harry's name was mentioned a lot?).

This isn't a "tribute" book, as you explained it. It easily stands on its own, although it obviously makes references to current events, like Harry Potter, because these characters are living in the real world. Some of the characters aren't likable, that's what makes them real. I think you probably skimmed through a lot of the book or didn't even finish reading it (despite you saying that his name appears everywhere, you spelled Quentin wrong).

Cindy To Melissa: Yes it was a sorta tribute book (this is taken right out of an interview paper I recieved directly from the publisher) in which Grossman mentioned that he was in a ways paying TRIBUTE to the books that he grew up on but at the same time poking fun of them. So yes if you have a problem with that take it up with the author not myself. Second off, I read a ton of adult books where sex is a part of it and don't have a problem with it. I just felt that this book constantly had people looking at boobs and it really didn't seem to have a point to it. My opinion if you don't like it move on. Third, I am not the only person who seemed to have a problem with the rather elementary writting of the author, look at the other goodreads reviews and respond to them accordingly. I did read the book all the way through, and I didn't like it (last time I checked that was not a crime) Everyone is entitled to their opinion, I had a bad experience with the book and said what I thought. I suggest you read this interview where Grossman DOES talk about writing this in vain of HP and Narnia so yes in a way it's a tribute to the classics.

Omar: Thank you for actually taking time (a long time) to actually write a response as I do like to discuss books. The fact that you brought up a lot of good points is really nice and I'll try to address them all and all your questions. I like to hear differing opinions on books and different ways people look at books :).

1. I think my biggest problem is the author did compare it to Harry Potter, and then all the people that love the book go on and on about how you can't expect a Harry Potter. So to me it's like is Harry Potter brought up just to sell books? Or was there a true belief that there is a HP connection? I like to understand everything that is going on so for me as a reader the on again off again descriptions and the vagueness of some of the parts really did bother me. Just like someone who likes detailed characters aren't going to like a book where the characters are one sided this did play a part for me. I just felt things moved so quickly or were glanced over and nothing explained to the reader. It almost felt like a cop out.

2. Characterization: I never got the feeling that these were well rounded people. They are in one tiny aspect, maybe it's just because not one characters had any happy experience they just felt like a bunch of brooding selfish people and they didn't jive with me. I'm not really sure if it was a clash of personalities between reader and characters.

3. There are instances in books where sex does develop a plot such as to build power or connections. I was refearing more to the constant boob looking (ok guys do that but does it have to be described in almost every page which is what it seemed), there also seemed to be an awful lot of talk about skirt bunching it just seemed overused. I was in no way offended by it but I did feel it was overused in an attempt to make the book more adult. The sex parts you brought up would have been fine without the other parts of the book as they served a purpose.

4. The writing just seemed very simple. I want to compare it to a see spot run book where it goes "See spot. See Spot Run. Run Spot run." There is a way of taking a book from a characters perspective without making every single sentence use that person's name. A lot of people seemed to be blown away by their experience and I just couldn't get over that it felt like EVERY sentence started with his name, it wears on a reader. Maybe if I had bonded with the character a little more it wouldn't have bothered me, but I didn't and it was very very grating.

You asked what I was expecting and I thought about this a few days and I still can't give you a concrete answer. I wasn't expecting this fluffy cloud experience, or even an epic fantasy feel to it. But the constant HP connections did feel a little deceptive. When an author says "If you like an adult version of Harry Potter". That's not what I felt the book was like at all.

Maybe it's because Harry Potter has so many different experiences to different people and I think it comes down to where you were at that time that Harry Potter was written, that your experience and expectation with this book are going to change.

I think I did go in with an expectation similar to yours.

You hit the nail on the head when you mentioned that it comes down to universal appeal of the characters. The type of personality that the characters had weren't really appealing (to myself) and therefore maybe I am more critical of the book. I can honestly say there wasn't one character I enjoyed or liked in the book and that could be why there was a bad experience. I really wish it had been different but again the author did a great job in creating a work that people either LOVE or HATE there is no middle of the road.

I don't mind long windedness as you called it because it gave me time to think on various sides of books. I really don't like people who just say I liked the book and no reason why!

I hope I answered everything for you.

Anna Cindy, great review of the book. I was going to write a review that included the same issues you had with The Magicians, but you covered them all so thoroughly. Your point by point comment with Omar really sums it up. Thank you for the complete and eloquent review! :) I wish I could add more, but the best I can say is, "Ditto what Cindy said." :)

Edward I am going to have to agree with Cindy. I felt that the characters were very one dimensional. I was never able to develop any feelings one way or the other for them. I feel the same as Tracey, the older I get the less compassion I feel for 20 something characters that can't seem to find direction or meaning to their lives. Usually its because they are not really looking but going through the motions. I thought the one interesting angle that was brought up was the implications for a life where you have complete control and want for nothing and its effect on you and your life. This book just did not live up to the expectations that I had based on the reviews I read. Certainly not a terrible book but one that I found I could not wait to finish so that I could move on to something else.

Sidney Totally agree with your assessment Cindy. Grossman would have been better off saying his work was more of a fantasy 'Catcher in the Rye' instead of the obvious commercial Harry Potter insinuations.

Though the author seemed to delve into the characters I agree that they felt extremely one dimensional and even worse they never changed or grew. Alice was the only one who seemed to develop and only at the end. Eliot was a character I related to and seemed to have the most depth to me.

My biggest gripe was Grossman throwing random characters in the middle of the book with NO characterization just to provide outs for his story.

Colleen I have to agree with you about this book even though I haven't finished it yet. Normally I find many books intriguing and get sucked in, but I couldn't with this one. I blame it on the minature sentences which are sort of like a child's book, the pretend feelings (or at least they sound like they're pretend to me), and the whining.

Andrea I slogged through this -determined to finish. I bought the book because it had a recommendation from Junot Diaz. It was a depressing exercise- Quentin was a whiny good for nothing and the emphasis on drinking and complaining was a waste of my time The book was not well-written and it seemed like Grossman just wanted to get it finished- so he stuck on that poor ending.

Edmond To Cindy and Omar:

I definitely agree with most if not all of the points I read in the your comments. The poor writing style,lack of details, poor build-up and explanation for the plot reflected a convoluted and confused state of mind by Grossman.

message 13: by Nelly (new) - rated it 1 star

Nelly All so true. I expected more from the author. The writing is uninspired. It feels like a half-hearted exercise in fantasy writing.

Laurie I completely agree with you on this book

message 15: by Chris (new) - rated it 1 star

Chris Bush I also expected more from the other reviews , recommendations, I expected amazing. What I got was boring and struggle to finish.

Nayan Patel thanks for this rv Cindy. Was considering whether to read this or not.

message 17: by Michelle (new)

Michelle Great review.

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