Thursday, October 20, 2011

Book Club: The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Lev Grossman’s The Magicians is pretty much universally tagged as “Harry Potter for Grown Ups.” It’s not, really. For one, it’s not really that much like Harry Potter other than the fact that it’s largely set at a school of magic and in a world where magic is real, but the magic is grittier, more arcane and mysterious and dangerous than the simplified magic world of Harry Potter. Not to knock HP, I love me some Harry Potter, but my big fear going into this book was that it would be too Harry Potter-esque and I was relieved to find that it wasn’t. The Chronicles of Narnia is also a huge touchstone, and there’s more of that influence in The Magicians than anything. At least what I know about Narnia, which isn’t a lot but even then, he makes references to Narnia and Harry Potter in the book so as to set it all apart. Anyway, Grossman’s book was engrossing. Ha! And it was really, really good and sad and a wonderful coming of age story featuring a protagonist who is a fuck up just like everyone else. It’s rare to find a genuine fuck up in books, I think. There’s that platonic ideal of a fuck up and then there’s Quentin Coldwater who rings much more like you or I (or probably just I in this case, I identified with him a bit, although I don’t know if I’m as big of a bitch as he is but I probably am) than of the classic fuck ups. He makes mistakes, often big ones that have huge consequences, but they’re mistakes anyone could make under the right emotional circumstances. The Magicians treats magic like some dangerous, unstable substance humans just accidentally stumbled upon and it really grounds this novel in reality, which is primarily why it’s so great. That and Grossman’s prose is just terrific to read and laugh out loud funny sometimes and then just horrifying and brutal other times.

It’s been a while since I’ve wanted to do one of these Book Club features for a book, but I’ve figured out that certain books just go better with music and it’s not right to force it. As usual, most of these songs are culled from whatever’s been in the CD player or playing on repeat on iTunes, or some new thing I stumbled upon that seemed to fit in one way or another.

Parry Gripp – “I Wanna Be a Magician”

Lev Grossman curated this theme song for The Magicians. How fucking cool is that? And you know what, it’s a goddamned great track. Like Grossman, I share a sort of undying love for Nerf Herder based on years of listening between the ages 14 and 18 and well, I still listen to Nerf Herder now and again because it’s just good. Good hooks and such. This is just such a perfect fucking song for this book/series/whatever it is. It conveys that sense of excitement that kind of runs through the book. That’s really the only consistent emotion, really. Even when it’s subdued due to danger and heartbreak, there’s always that thrill of the quest. It’s what this book is all about: finding out that magic is real and then seeing how far the rabbit hole goes.

Los Campesinos! – “By Your Hand”

One of the best things about The Magicians is that it deals with teen angst in a more realistic way than Harry Potter. That’s one of the things that really sets it apart and somewhat removes the “Harry Potter for Grown Ups” stigma. It’s not really Harry Potter for grown ups because it’s not really that much like Harry Potter. And it’s not really for grown ups. It’s more young adult with a hefty dose of post-college lit.

I can’t wait for this album to come out. I forgot it was so close. This is the first single, and I found this video about a month after it premiered, took a break from reading, freaked out a little, and then freaked out a little more because it’s so good. It’s good because it’s catchy and sad like all the best LC! Songs but it also definitely feels like this band is maturing in the best way. The way where they aren’t sacrificing any of the inherent stuff that makes them great and that only makes their music better and better. Maybe this song fits so well because they’re British and Brakebills is described as being very Anglophilic. But it balances the fun and sad that comes with the early twenties/twentysomething characters. Anyway, I think I watched this video right when Quentin and Alice went to her parents weird house and it felt like something was going to go drastically wrong with their relationship sometime later in the novel, but at that point they still loved eachother. Not like they ever stop loving eachother, it just gets complicated because as I’ve said, Quentin is a stupid fuck up which only makes what happens at the end all that much more tragic and ultimately, what makes this book so fucking good. There are consequences, and those consequences are never pleasant, and will have to be dealt with by those who surivive. And that’s sad. But that’s life.

Los Campesinos! – “This is How You Spell..."

And yeah, maybe it’s the British thing. But Quentin and Alice’s relationship just feels like a fucking Los Campesinos! Song. Bittersweet. Emphasis on the sweet, emphasis on the bitter. Notably “I know, I am wrong, I am sorry.” Something about that sentiment.

Feist – “The Bad in Each Other”

Well, it’s pretty clear what I focused on the most in the book. I just love a well told relationship story. One that gets it right. That sort of thing seems to be the most important thing it is, or at least that’s how it seems. The way we interact with people, notably the ones we love. You know Alice and Quentin are gonna get together from the second you see them in the same room and he remarks at how weird and odd she is. And then there’s the whole fox-sex thing in Antarctica and the fact that they’re the only two crazy enough to participate in Mayakovsky’s optional final. Kindered spirits, those two. SO SPOILER ALERT QUIT READING IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THIS, it was pretty easy figure out that Quentin was going to cheat with her. What with all the drinking and drugging and partying and time away from Alice because she hated all that. This post-Brakebills world seemed almost out of character for Quentin, but mostly because I was just so annoyed because I knew what was going to happen. And then it did, and then I understood why it had to happen: So Penny could show up with the magic button that would take them to Fillory. Having that Quentin/Alice drama running through what should have been the most exciting thing ever was just perfectly placed to keep things grounded. To make sure the real world followed them into magic land. And then it looks like it’s going to work out, maybe and of course Alice sacrifices herself with some badass medieval magic to kill the Beast and I know that needs to happen because Quentin is the protagonist and he needs that to happen so he can learn and grow but man, but it still sucks. It illustrates the complexity of their relationship and that’s what makes Quentin who he becomes. I’m reading The Magician King now and he’s a little bit wiser. Still a fuck up, but he knows that there are consequences and he’s more mature this time around. Granted, not that much more mature, but he’s touched the stove and realized it’s hot so there.

Anyway, this song has pangs of a couple who’ve been together so long they know every last bit about each other and notably, how they’re capable of hurting each other.

M83 – “Midnight City”
I put M83’s new bloated-but-still-lovely LP Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming one night whilst reading and it was a nice fit. Anthony Gonzalez knows exactly how to play on nostalgia in such a way that it captures the absolute spirit of youth and preserves all of its faults and triumphs. It’s not so much of a lyrical thing, but the tone that the synthesizers have that just screams 20 year olds at magician school. Also, I didn't know this when I picked this song, but the video is basically a bunch of kids who can do magic. GO FIGURE.

No comments:

Post a Comment