Monday, 14 November 2011

The Big Irony

From the occasional reviews series: Lev Grossman's The Magicians.


Laura Miller described Erin Morgensten's (rather sickly sounding) The Night Circus as 'the first Etsy novel'. That might make Lev Grossman's The Magicians and The Magician King into Narnia for Boing Boing readers.

The Magician King is a quest story, written for an audience that's not just familiar with every Harry Potter meme, but with as well. I think of Grossman's tone as 21st century hardboiled; it's every bit as quotable, but also every bit as relentless, as Raymond Chandler. Here's a representative sample:

She always righted herself in the end, with the help of the dandy new shrink, a woman this time, and her dandy 450 milligrams of Wellbutrin and 30 milligrams of Lexapro daily, and her dandy new online support group for the depressed.

Actually, the support group really was pretty dandy. It was something special. It was founded by a woman who'd worked successively at Apple, and then Microsoft, and then Google. She blazed a glittering arc in the firmament at each firm for about four or five years, piling up tranches of stock options, before she rolled neurochemical snake eyes and a bout of clinical depression knocked her out of the sky. By the time Google was done with her she was forty-four and had her fuck-you money in the bank. So she retired early and started Free Trader Beowulf instead.

Free Trader Beowulf - you had to be at least forty and a recovering pen-and-paper role-playing-gamer to get the reference, but it was apt. Google it. FTB was an online support group for depressed people. But not your common run of depressed people. Oh, no.

To get in the door you first had to show them your prescriptions. They wanted credentials, solid ones. A bunch of nerds like this, they didn't want to hear your whining, and they didn't want to read your poems - sorry, Jack - or look at your doomy watercolours. This crowd wasn't soft-core. If you were depressed, they wanted to see the hard stuff, a diagnosis from an actual psychiatrist and hard-core chemical-on-neuron action. And if you were rocking double-neurochemical-penetration, like Julia was, all the better.

As much as I enjoyed The Magicians - felt like I was reading a palimpsest of every bit of lovable and scary fantasy I've ever read, supplemented by every bit Grossman has read - now the magic's starting to fade a little. The writing's still crisp, but the story is less compelling, the allusions less amusing, the inventiveness not quite as sparkling.

The book ends with a set-up to turn this duo into a trilogy. I kind of hope Grossman bucks this and does something totally different next.

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