November 11, 2009

The Magicians

I read a really good book while I was on vacation MY HONEYMOON: The Magicians, by Lev Grossman. I loved it, and was sorry when it came to an end.

Critics may call this novel deriviative, unoriginal - but I think that's a facile way of looking at the book. The story is about a young man who gets accepted to a secret school of magic (uh-huh, sounds familiar), is obsessed with a fairy tale land populated by talking animals which is accessed through a grandfather clock (not a wardrobe, but still...), and experiences magical adventures and soul-searching. At first some of the glaring similarities to other fairy tales took me aback - is he really going to be this obvious about it? - but after a while, the similarities become less stagey as they are absorbed into the unique tale. During a magic game at the school, for example, one character is drunk and missing his part in the game, and stumbles:

"Hang on," he said. "Gotta get my quidditch costume. I mean
uniform. I mean welters."
Modern day, teenage magicians obviously would be familiar with the Harry Potter books, right? It makes perfect sense to mention an aspect of the books that this character would know (and might mention in a drunken mess). I wouldn't call this derivation. Rather, I would say it's an acknowledgment and also sets the scene, establishes the atmosphere that these kids inhabit.

The characters were well-drawn - none of them were entirely Good, and none were completely and unrealistically Evil (well, the bad guy was pretty bad, but even he had a back story). I like that. And, bonus, Grossman uses great words: persiflage, susurrus, saurian...

Fairy tale references aside, this is definitely not a children's book. It's about the darkest possibilities of magic. While there are plenty of delightful little magical images and tricks (love the part when the students are transformed into geese, and the author's descriptions of how a goose feels and thinks), much of the book is grim, sly, cunning and occassionally even shocking. (At one point I actually gasped and said, "Holy shit!" out loud while reading. Ladylike!) This darkness reminded me a little of Wicked and the other Gregory Maguire books.

Sequel, please!

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