Posted by: markfender | September 7, 2011

The Magicians

I read a book. I write about it on the blog. THE SYSTEM WORKS!

The Magicians is what happens when Bret Easton Ellis writes Harry Potter and the Narnia books. Filled with bored-teen ennui, it details the trials and tribulations of Quentin Coldwater as he makes his way through a world of magical colleges and far-off fantasy realms only accessible through wardrobes. The book doesn’t tread too far off the path already trod by much more famous writers – Brakebills is Hogwarts with more drinking and sex, and the magical realm of Fillory resembles Narnia with more existential angst and questioning the meaning of reality.

Now all that sounds derivative, and it is. But it’s also well-written with a tighter plot than at first it appears. Plus, it features a lot of New England prep school hijinks, which I have a weakness for (I really like tweed, apparently). My biggest complaint is probably that the book doesn’t have super-tight pacing. Each section of the book seemingly abstracts the main thrust of these other fantasy series into short vignettes – a few hundred pages of magical schooling, a few hundred pages of Less than Zero, a few hundred pages of Narnian adventures, etc. However, the cast of characters is well realized and the book kept me engaged so that the abrupt setting shifts didn’t bother me.

The boldest thing this book does is place all of this typical magical realism background into the lives of modernist characters – these are characters straight out of Jay McInerney or Donna Tartt – bored, privileged, and struggling to find a meaning to their existence. While the magic world the characters find themselves in is one in which magic seems to be practiced for its own sake, the quest for meaning haunts every page. Quentin, in particular, is not Harry Potter, nor any of the Pevensie siblings. His quest is not the slaying of Voldemort nor the search for Aslan, but one much more common to humanity – a place in the world.

All that sounded pretentious, and I suppose it is. But the book breezes by quickly with interesting characters and intriguing set pieces. There’s a lot of knowing nods to Harry Potter and Narnia, even some D&D references (and a David Foster Wallace nod, for those paying attention at home). If you ever wore out your copies of the Chronicles of Narnia (guilty) and enjoy the disaffection of youth in books by Nick Hornsby or Nick McDonnell (people named Nick must be really bummed out all the time), then you’ll probably like this book. The library is currently winging the just-published sequel to my door and I’m looking forward to reading it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: