The logline zipping about for this novel almost convinced me to give it a pass, despite having enjoyed Grossman's last novel
: Harry Potter leaves me cold; I'm seemingly the only person in the world who liked (the underrated) The Little Friend
a whole lot more than (the overrated) The Secret History
; the Narnia books--the three I read, resentfully--were forced on me by parents who thought they would appeal to me in a manner more wholesome than the horror fiction consumed by (or consuming) me starting in grade 4, and there's nothing I liked less than escapism meant to be good for me. And that touchstone Tolkien? Meh. Fantasy's just generally not my bag of fantasy; creatures, crimes, heists, aliens, even the most ludicrous of space operas, sure, ... but orcs and swords and spells and magic, all that thirteen-sided die stuff, will usually bore when not actively aggravating me.
But The Magicians
was line by line clear then lush then sly and always engaging, chapter by chapter engrossing, and ultimately a very good read, even for the magic-resistant, and despite a few tics and tacks that rankled here and there.
There was one sequence that knocked my socks off. I won't give much away, for fear of spoilers, but it channeled the most chilling possibilities hinted at by Lovecraft, and captured what throughout the novel worked best for me: magic (and fantasy more broadly) as an alien, inscrutable force, not just some pallid escapist complement to our real-world desires but that deep unconscious confusing Other stuff which pushes up and surprises, unsettles, confuses our sense of the world and our place in it. At its best, and the chapter on "The Beast" is pretty damn wonderful, the novel made me understand the allure of Fantasy. It made me want to read the way our protagonist Quentin reads the Narnia-inflected Fillory novels, the way Grossman must
read his favorites.
And the book was never less than good.
Even with those aforementioned tics. I can find novels about youth on that road to disillusionment--even when the plot's more concerned with incantations than intoxication ('though this novel has a fair bit of both)--a wee bit dull. If I'm gonna read about self-obsessed men (who are more like boys), I'd rather they were even more outrageously awful--more John-Selfish, fewer epiphanies, no hint of redemption. (I like my bad behavior neat, no chaser.) The magical element maybe didn't sidetrack me enough from the somewhat too-familiar misspent-youth plot, nor vice versa. But, again, I'm pretty much the exact opposite of the person who might be very inclined to pick this up--and I *still* really dug it. So I'm betting the countless, respective and/or collective Potter Tartt Lewis fans will do handsprings about the novel, and deservedly so. Good stuff.