PERFORMER: the magicians (lev grossman)

lamps i appreciate, 1

here be spoilers; if you haven't read the book and plan to do so at some point, please enjoy this wizard lamp and avert your eyes from the rest of the post. temporarily-actual reading group discussion questions - also containing spoilers - are at its conclusion.

lev grossman went to harvard and yale; he's a prolific tech journalist, and he's time's book reviewer. each of those points is in his bio, but they don't really need to be; the magicians is precisely the book you'd expect from a guy who's done time at elite schools, chewed on a bunch of cables, and read a lot of books. that's both a good thing and a bad thing, i think; some of its biggest strengths (the pitch-perfect tone of the school scenes, the elegant logic of the magical phrasing the students learn in antarctica and the eerie interdimensional neitherlands, the feel of all the literature that gave rise to this literature) share genes with its faults (quentin is the sort of overeducated douchebag i couldn't wait to get away from after college, so several hundred pages of him can be rough, and grossman's fluency in all things sci-fi and fantasy can have a too-many-chefs effect that's fatal to emotional connection with his story).

grossman's hero, quentin "brooding in brooklyn" coldwater, is bizarro harry potter, at least at first: much to his horror, his parents have provided him with a stable and loving home, he has a pair of reliable friends (who have done him the terrible injustice of dating each other), and he's on track to trundle off to princeton after he winds up his reign as the (academic) king of high school. all of this is terrifically unsatisfying, and he pines for the narnia-esque idylls of christopher plover's mythical kingdom of fillory, where there are two aslans (the rams ember and umber), one gets about with the help of the cozy horse, a living, infantilizing monorail (for my money, the cozy horse is one of grossman's best jokes), and
things mattered in a way they didn't in this world. In Fillory you felt the appropriate emotions when things happened. Happiness was a real, actual, achievable possibility. It came when you called. Or no, it never left you in the first place.
this third-person limited narration (quentin isn't the speaker, but we experience just about everything from his perspective) is pretty challenging for the reader: we have to endure quentin's bottomless self-pity, and we have to work around his world-swallowing self-interest to pick up information about characters and plot points which don't hold his attention. we're also stuck with his emotional vocabulary, which is - high-school boyfriends, i salute you - not the most mature.
Sometimes he burst out laughing out of nowhere, for no reason. He was experimenting cautiously with the idea of being happy, dipping an uncertain toe into those intoxicatingly carbonated waters. It wasn't something he'd had much practice at. It was just too fucking funny. He was going to learn magic! He was either the greatest genius of all time or the biggest idiot. But at least he was actually curious about what was going to happen to him next. For the first time in he didn't know how long he was actually following the action with interest. In Brooklyn reality had been empty and meaningless--whatever inferior stuff it was made of, meaning had refused to adhere to it. Brakebills was different.
on most days i would make much of that take on brooklyn, but in the spirit of the nominally-bloodless book chat, i'll refrain; that's emotional maturity, you see. to be fair, not all of the focus on quentin is problematic; though the life of his mind is the only life he's got, the magicians fetishizes wizard school far less than the harry potter books do. i didn't realize how refreshing it was to gloss over huge areas of quentin's education (sometimes literally, as in when he tests out of his first year) without having to page through baroque descriptions of each teacher, class, spell, and magical-slapstick episode he encounters until grossman pointed it out to me; at some point near the end of the brakebills section of the book, someone mentions how silly it is that each of the twenty-odd parts of the students' desks has a special name (a simple, effective reminder that the school isn't the end or even the bulk of the story here).

the educational vignettes we do get are well-chosen; i loved the sequence in which the students turned into geese and flew to antarctica, and i thought the instruction sequences there were terribly clever. it's no accident that mayakovsky (a fine name) speaks russian; russian grammar is as subjective as the magic the kids are learning (with variations for everything from time to location to the emotional state of the spellcaster), with prefixes and suffixes of each tense so specific to what surrounds it that you can scramble the words of your sentence any which-way and they'll mean the same thing. well done there, grossman; those drills and the marvelous end-of-term trip to the south pole were worth the price of admission on their own.

lest we get too caught up in grossman's creations, he sprinkles a glib bit of meta over the top of quentin's return to brakebills: "wizard needs food badly," his friend josh* notes. i can't decide whether the gauntlet reference pleases or appalls me; as when joss whedon & co dropped a homestar runner reference into the buffy the vampire slayer finale and burninated giles, i enjoyed feeling that the writer(s) and i were working with the same cultural tool box...and felt a bit dirty at the same time. in this case, do present-day college students really joke about twenty-six-year-old atari games? am i underestimating the next generation's nerdery? am i old enough to call present-day college students 'the next generation'? let's move on.

speaking of grossman's tool box, harry potter references aside, there's a lot of the early 20th century in his particular strain of fantasy, and i think it suits him. the beast's appearance in the classroom was equal parts h.p. lovecraft (the explanatory speech the headmaster gives about how beings from other worlds visit ours is boss) and magritte; its extra fingers** and the tree branch in front of its face were terrifying, and just right. the girl in the brakebills fountain who showed the unfortunate emily greenstreet how to remake her face was also quite frightening; her malevolence set us up nicely for the vacant, escherrific spookiness of the neitherlands. somehow those interstices felt more real to me than either the cringe-inducing, post-graduation scenes in new york city (though, to be fair, some twentysomethings do end up in cringe-inducing scenes when in new york city) or the scenes in fillory itself.

on those scenes in fillory itself: the conclusion of michael agger's new york times review kept coming back to me as i was thinking about what i wanted to say about the magicians.
Perhaps a fantasy novel meant for adults can’t help being a strange mess of effects. It’s similar to inviting everyone to a rave for your 40th-birthday party. Sounds like fun, but aren’t we a little old for this?
it's an easy observation to make about genre fiction, and - when one considers spectacular works like buffy the vampire slayer and philip pullman's his dark materials trilogy - easy to swat down. the magicians provides both the sugar rush of shallow fantasy and the deep, soulful twang of shrewd allegory, and they're both all over the ember's tomb sequence (a mishmash of grossman's worst and best ideas). poorly-blocked battles lifted from early-nineties role-playing games (a bee, a house cat, and a giant, burning naked guy! better have my mage cast an elemental shield around the party and swap in the warrior's poisoned gauntlets) and an ill-advised scarface reference at the book's emotional climax? check and check. a heartbreaking sacrifice which highlights the fact that there's no answer here to the "what's magic for?" question,*** and a chilling demonstration of what happens when you can't say goodbye to the cozy horse?**** check and check. the magicians is, unquestionably, a strange mess of effects - but i can't imagine being too old for it.

hey, you made it to the end of my introduction to the book chat! butterbeer for everyone, or regular beer, or whiskey, if you're gluten-intolerant. feel free to tell me i'm dead wrong, or to ignore me and skip to the points below, or to ignore the points below and skip to your own take on the magicians in the comments. i'm just glad you're here.

temporarily-actual reading group discussion questions: extra-long edition

01 do you think quentin's unlikable on purpose? or, backing up, do you like him?

02 will you watch fox's drama series adaptation of the magicians (by the guys who co-wrote x-men: first class and thor)? how would you cast it?

03 in an interview with the village voice, grossman mentioned that he lifted evelyn waugh's structure "more or less wholesale." if you've read brideshead revisited, did you feel bits of it in the magicians? (are eliot and janet sebastian and julia flyte? is quentin charles ryder?)

04 had any of you encountered gonfalons (the term, not gonfalons themselves) prior to the magicians?

05 if you have a tattoo, what sort of being d'you think would erupt from it?

06 did the scarface thing bother you? what about the gauntlet reference? is the magicians too meta?

07 when did you realize the beast was martin?

08 from where you're sitting, what does magic represent in lev grossman's world? is it imagination, intelligence, privilege - or something else entirely?

09 will you read the magician king?

*later on, josh is responsible for the horribly awkward meta that is "the hypothetical contents of an imaginary porn magazine for intelligent trees that would be entitled Enthouse." i read that and felt pain for him, for his creator, and on my own behalf.

**slightly-off beast-features, as in soundgarden's "black hole sun" video and jell-o's current "pudding face" campaign, scare the crap out of me; we're not even going to talk about neil gaiman's corinthian.

***poor alice. i don't think she was giving her life for quentin, exactly; i think she became a niffin because it was better than becoming her parents.

****i was initially disappointed that the beast was martin chatwin, but i've come around.


Katherine Cortes said...

I've been eagerly awaiting your take, because it means reading the book had *some* purpose for me. You are much kinder to it than I would be, or than my flesh book group was, when we summarily dismissed it over breakfast risotto and apple muffins this past Sunday, stopping only to shoot a few zingers over our shoulders (sha-zam!) as we moved on to babies, the economy, and wandering IUDs.

I blame myself for getting sucked in by the critical chatter, and having too-high expectations. I did slog all the way through in hopes of finding that he would tie up the proliferations of yards-long loose ends to darn up the equally gaping plot holes - to no avail, in my book. My friend's 4-year-old told a more coherent and engrossing story about the cover of the New Yorker a couple of weeks back. I suppose Grossman's going to use all that random detail as entry points to the continuing serial, for which I have nothing but scorn.

I will agree with you on the scene where they get goosed, and I can at least understand your softness for Mayakovsky.

But, needless to say: 09: no.

Rachel (heart of light) said...

I read it over the weekend, creeping in under the wire. Basic overview - I liked it, but I probably won't ever re-read it (which says something, because I'm a habitual re-reader). It did make me want to gorge on some of my other favorite fantasy books - C.S. Lewis, Phillip Pullman, Madeleine L'Engle. So I guess you could tell it was coming from someone who loves books? I think there just wasn't enough depth to it. I liked moments of the book, but as a whole it didn't really sustain me. 

The parts that worked best for me are the same ones you liked - I liked the creepiness of the initial beast scene and the Antarctica section (the only part I could see wanting to read again) in particular. I liked having teenage wizards that were actually angsty and asshole-y and generally inappropriate, albeit in a boarding school way.

01. I actually didn't find Quentin particularly likeable or unlikeable. He just existed for me, in a mildly annoying way. I'm hoping he was annoying on purpose, since it was a bildungsroman of sorts. Except, I didn't find him much more likeable or adult at the very end, so maybe that didn't work out. 

06. The Scarface thing was unbearably awkward. Did he even have to say anything at that moment?

07. Honestly, not until the big reveal. I had no idea. 

08. A combination of craft + privilege, I think. I actually liked that part about the book. The craft aspect of witchcraft seems to get short shrift in lots of wizardy novels. I liked that the endless repetition was the base for the craft, and at some point your natural inclinations take over and you either make it or you don't. Similar to writing for some authors, I would imagine. 

09. It's on my wait list at the library. I have a compulsive need to finish all series that I start. 

kidchamp said...

re: reading the magician king, katherine and rachel, i will totally cop to having compulsive needs to both finish all series i start and to give the fairest possible shake to things i dislike strongly at first (see: updike, john). one could shoot a cannon through some of the holes in this narrative; given how carefully grossman places a few of his crumb-trails (the two niffins, the details about the chatwin kids), i have to hope he was establishing a long story arc and is not just unforgivably lazy. in places it's obviously the latter, and it pains me to say so. 

jacob said...

01 yes, i think quentin is unlikable on purpose, as most teenagers are unlikable (i think this is grossman's point)? perhaps in the effort to make him as un-harry potter-like as possible, grossman made him a bit too unlikable/unredeemable. overall, it seems that i enjoyed the book more than others. it was certainly shaggy, and the later, kill the boss-man scenes were my least favorite, but i thought the pace was great, the characters relatively complex (given the last time i read a straight fantasy novel it was probably some robert jordan novel so, you know, extremely low bar), and it avoided the common fantasy sin of taking itself too goddamn seriously.

02 i didn't know about this, but sure, i'll at least watch the pilot. speaking of tv, while particular seasons and episodes of buffy were great, i must raise the issue of the unspeakably bad final season, which i think uncoincidentally is buffy at her most grown-up. i guess this is a roundabout way of asking: why was that fantasy "for adults" so much better when the protagonists were not adults, and so much worse when they were?

03 oh god, i read brideshead revisited fairly recently and have almost completely forgotten the plot. i'll take grossman's word for it.

06 no, but then again i thought the "enthouse" joke was funny. more relevantly: teenage/college boys pretty much use movie/TV dialogue as conversation patter all the time. why wouldn't they use it here?

07 like rachel, i didn't predict this. i am also poor at predicting obvious plot twists in any number of media.

08 i'm not sure how to address your question directly, but i did very much like the idea that learning magic was incredibly tedious and repetitive work (even though he sort of undercuts this by the end of the novel) this probably has something to do with my real-world work looking at how we can measure kids' perserverence and similar skills.

09 as a library read, sure. probably won't go out and buy the hardcover, though.

kidchamp said...

re: 02, you make an interesting point; i'm still working on counterexamples. lord of the rings was...mostly for adults, about adults? 

re: 06, it wasn't the joke itself that bothered me (i've made my peace with male mixed media humor) - it was the too-elaborate explanation, which is the death of funny. an audience sophisticated enough to get the gauntlet joke would certainly be far enough along to get a tolkien reference, right? these weird little eddies of overdefinition popped up every now and again; the other really glaring one was when quentin calls alice 'vix,' and grossman was all, "...which is short for vixen, which is what one calls a female fox, and that was quentin's pet name for alice, which was a reference to when they got it on as foxes in antarctica." yeah, i made that leap, boss. 

re: 08, i think i'm also trying to ask the question of what magic is "for." fogg gives the big speech in the whiskey/tattoo-cave about how magicians are broken people, making them sound a bit like comedians, and then other characters' choices make magicians sound more like academics, and magic more like the liberal arts - like, it is what you make of it, and figuring out its practical application (as, say, alice's parents never did, and as emily greenstreet now refuses to do) is one of Life's Great Mysteries. does that make any sense? 

holli said...

1. I could not STAND Quentin. His long-suffering was insufferable. I'm sure it was on purpose, but for the better? I don't know. I'd much rather have experienced the story through a more likeable character, such as Alice.

2. Probably not.

4. The term didn't stick out to me in the text at all. I'm familiar with it from studies in Rome, however.

5. The 15 year old demon child who thought a tramp stamp was a fantastic idea would most certainly emerge with a vengance. (which would be particularly painful, as these oh-so-original trio of stars have migrated south as my ass has grown [the fact that only 1 top point is visible lessens embarrasment].)

6. Im too mad about the scarface line to comment on this.

7. Not until the moment they put it in laymans terms

8. I don't know. But I absolutely love your re:jacob on this question- specifically the "liberal arts" part. You're just as far up shit creek without a paddle as a magician, you've got to figure your way in the world with no particular direction to start... like, say, someone with a communications degree ;)

9. Already have- this was faaaarrrrr too long for me to have to read one book. Want spoilers?

Milkmaid's dumb friend said...

0? I meta chuckled when the first sex scene in the book was some precocious feeling BDSM involving spit and the second a transmogrified feral orgy. Did the absurdity mollify what I imagine was your goodly scoff? Or maybe it paled compared to a professional lecher like J Updike, of whom Grossman said a crummy thing about in a Salon article explaining why he gave fraudulent reviews to his own book on Amazon, and post DFWs GMN essay too! Piker. 01 I thought everything Quentin did followed, so to speak. I thought he wasn't really all that shitty or obnoxious a person until he got all bent out of shape about Alice's kind of infidelity- paging Dan Savage. 06 Sort of. I had a fun time reading this in three days (torturous library wait) and it didn't wear me out until between when Alice swived Penny and Alice and Quentin made up, what with all the anger rising and then despondency and then ANGER RISING and the proliferation of superfluous pseudo-teen-speak fucks and Josh using the expression in this piece twice. The Scarface thing was dumb though, and the Gauntlet reference made me think of MC Frontalot's song Charity Case, a better done reference I feel. 08 09 I love the monotony of the weird, when supernatural or alien things are made to suffer the same infuriating bureaucracy we're all subject to in real life, so merely the hint of wizardly long term investments and the wizard courts and wizard school administration and the like kept me fairly entertained. I usually like my school stories from the pov of teachers (David Lodge-ishy, or even Russo's Straight Man approach), but because the magic really needn't have been there at all, the Brakebills stuff worked better for me in the same way. If the magic itself has some larger significance it was lost on my simple ass. I'm tempted to read The Magician King mostly for Julia's portion, hearing about how down and out hedge witches make it work Beat Generation style.

Amid Privilege said...

01 I liked Quentin. Actually I loved him. But I am the mother of a 21-year old male, whom I have known since his belly was round. So many things have to be understood, and even forgiven.

02 Absolutely I will watch it. And probably then for a while it will be the theme narrative of some chapter of my life. So far I've moved from the Sopranos to Game of Thrones to Friday Night Lights. Time for a little angst, I think.

03 I got Harry Potter. I got Narnia. I got Pokemun. (oh god those battles were boring) But Brideshead Revisited didn't even peek its head over the credenza.

04 Yes. See Game of Thrones.

05 I hope for that actor who plays Tim Riggins on Friday Night Lights. Seems only fair if something's going to live in your back.

06 COMPLETELY passed me by.

07 Not until the last minute. Because I was too busy liking Quentin.

08 Huh. Here I just thought it meant magic.

09 Yes. Because I like to find books that are easy to read but not boring. Books where I can actually feel them acting on my poor, over-excited cerebellum without effort.

And by the way, I thoroughly enjoyed the book, but I felt he underwrote it, and was just plain lazy. Also, um, where the hell was his editor?

kidchamp said...

i am impressed with your gonfalons-familiarity; i'd never heard the term before, which, given my consuming interest in all things medieval, is kind of embarrassing. 

on tramp stamps - oh, tramp stamps. i'll admit that ye olde iceland tattoo ended up in the middle of my back partly because i wanted to dignify the tattoo below it. if i have tattoos all over my back, i've escaped the cliché! ye olde icelandic tattoo artist noted that my previous tattoo was a bit crooked; i wonder if that's arse migration. i should probably stop talking about this.

in short, i want two back-demons. 

kidchamp said...

i hadn't read that salon piece, but it makes me want to send grossman a link to the nominally-bloodless book chat in the worst way. while we're talking about reader reviews, can we talk about blurbs? i blurb books every now and again, and while they are always truthful, they always, always end up blowing my feelings out of proportion. i can't imagine what the math looks like in re blurbs by notable authors for their friends and colleagues; i know that gary shteyngart's gushiness on the magicians was so suspect that it nearly talked me out of reading the book in the first place. 

re: 0?: yes, the absurdity helped with the fox-sex. i continue to scoff at all sex, of course. except for in this one old poppy montgomery scene from law and order: svu, hoo! joe mocks me for this. on the first scene, do you mean that weird eliot half-glimpse? i thought some major character development would follow that - that's one of the bits that made me think of eliot as a waugh character, he was so sebastian there - but no. 

re: 01: his reaction to the first beast-death bugged. we're all self-absorbed twats at that age, but his prank killed someone; i wanted that to haunt him a bit more. 

I love the monotony of the weird, when supernatural or alien things are made to suffer the same infuriating bureaucracy we're all subject to in real life, so merely the hint of wizardly long term investments and the wizard courts and wizard school administration and the like kept me fairly entertained. 

YES, which is why it annoyed me that eliot, janet, and julia just busted quentin's window and yanked him out of his nine-to-five; the setting was kind of flat there, and i wanted grossman to hit us with a more substantive look at that office stint. it's possible i was hoping for some beetlejuice-ish processing-room-in-the-underworld scenario.

i probably owe lodge some time one of these years; i hated nice work with such gusto that my paper on it and gaskell's north and south might have been a bit singed. what should i be reading?

Megan said...

01 - I read through a bunch of reviews before I bought the book so I was completely prepared to hate Quentin. Something similar to my feeling for Rabbit in “Rabbit, Run”, a feeling which I can only describe as an overwhelming desire to reach into the pages of the book to yank him out and then run him over with my car. Repeatedly. But for Quentin, I ended up just feeling rather apathetic about him.  I definitely rolled my eyes more than once over his constant whining and a few of the over the top literary references but overall I enjoyed the story. That being said, I would have preferred a more likeable character to be the protagonist. 

02 – I might give it a shot. But I fear that Quentin will be more annoying when he’s not a mere voice in my head.

05 – I am indecisive and therefore do not have a tattoo, but would like to think if I did it would be something that was on fire. With ninja moves. 

06 – See above regarding eye-rolling. I think I found it more annoying that his little friend ends up doing a whole lot of nothing. I kept thinking it was such a waste. 

07 – I didn’t realize it was him until it actually was revealed. I really liked the initial scene with the beast when he ate the student (I don’t have the book with me, and I’ve blanked on her name), and was pretty disappointed that it ended up being Martin. It felt like Grossman got to the end and realized that he had to tie that scene in somehow but didn’t have a lot of pages left to do it in. I found the beast much more terrifying in that first scene than later when they’re in Fillory.

08 – Not sure, priveledge and intellect I suppose?

09 – Yes. But only if I can find it at the library - I won’t buy it.  I did really enjoy this book, but I agree that it’s not one I’d reread.  There might be a passage here or there I would want to look at again, but not the whole book. I kind of feel that The Magician King would be the same.

kidchamp said...

re: 03, one of the only battles i'll get behind is the very first one at ember's tomb: i thought it was fantastic how the sight of real, brutal violence (against a bunny, albeit a warlike one) was too much for the earthlings. all magic is a kind of aggression, but that scene drew a rather stark line between what they thought they had set out to do and what they would actually be doing. 

on other books i felt in this one, there was a bit of christopher stasheff's warlock in spite of himself and its sequels (a series of about a dozen books, dating back to '69 for the original, about an earth-man who travels to another dimension in which magic really works; many took it as being about vietnam and government, though i read it when i was about twelve and missed all of that); the goofiness reminded me of robert asprin's myth series, a collection of fun and extremely pun-heavy novels (beginning with another fine myth and devolving from there) about a magician's apprentice who summons a demon (who explains that "demon" is short for "dimensional traveler") and begins a career of interdimensional travel and...swindling? i'm reading keith richards's life right now, and the themes are kind of the same.

what i wish i'd seen, though those books are all fun, is more of philip pullman's his dark materials; he hammers the significance of our choices and responsibilities home so effectively that i was in tears long before i got to the scenes (in the golden compass, the first book in the trilogy) with the oblation board (oh god the deaths in that series matter).

re: 08, i'm harping on this because grossman made a point of saying he wanted to explore what magic is "for," and because fogg's pre-graduation speech was so look-at-me earnest. grossman has a bit of a go with what fantasy worlds can mean when he turns martin into a monster through fillory, but it's such a small gesture in a scenario with so much material. i agree that he underwrote the book and was just plain lazy; it's hard to continue to enjoy a book, or to enjoy a book in its entirety rather than as a smattering of intriguing decisions, when i think the author is phoning things in. it's insulting, you know? 

Amid Privilege said...

I wonder if I would still have liked the book, had I done all that background reading. Perhaps not. Perhaps it was only possible to like because I had very little idea what he was trying to achieve.

Milkmaid's dumb friend said...

0? Funnily enough my copy of Changing Places has this blurb: "I hated Nice Work with such gusto... it... might have been a bit singed." --Our Lady Kidchamp. Most all blurbs are sad making but I have to tell you the blurbs on the hardback of D Eggers AHWOSG were so good I photocopied them to read later. DFW and Lawrence Weschler do measured gushing right. The secret is they have to be longish, I think. 0? Wow that Law and Order: SVU scene sounds more magical and intriguing than all of Fillory. Did they even joke in the book about using magic to enhance (human on human) sex? It feels like the other half of a lot of glimpses were omitted, you're right, and in a genre that prides itself on uncomfortably long gazes. 0? I'd put Lodge to the left if it made room for De Vries or Baker.

kidchamp said...

as bad as i am about reading movie reviews, i try to be good about avoiding book reviews ahead of time, particularly when plot-gotchas seem like a possibility.

on the show, i imagine jason schwartzman as quentin, which probably wouldn't help with the whole folks-wanting-to-hit-him thing. 

on cacodemons, i wouldn't mind a fiery ninja, either. or an icy ferret who goes right up your foes' trousers. 

jamie said...

01 Certainly on purpose. God I hope. But I wouldn't say I disliked him. He drove me fucking nuts sometimes. But I liked that even though he was (let's say) for me on the edge of dislike, I still cared about how shit went through his perspective. When alice became a niffin I wasn't mourning her loss, but mourning quentin's loss, you know?
02 I will try it out. I become very attached to characters and stories. Dude, I don't know who's who in the world of actors. I left off after Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt.
03 Should I read brideshead revisited?
04 Did I encounter it in the magicians? Fuck I have a terrible memory.
05 Well, I would expect a barn owl, of course. Or maybe Ben's spirit animal as a barn owl. (And my owl would come out of his? There must be some sort of connection there, no?)
06 see above re: memory. Little is too meta for me.
07 Upon reveal. #slow
08 How was I ever in AP English in high school? Eff I don't know. Just magic?
09 Yep. See 02.

amanda said...

(from amanda, thwarted by ye commenting platform; 1 of 2. - ed.)

01 I don’t care whether Quentin “shitty name” Coldwater is intentionally unlikable. This douchebag is the kind of douchebag I hate the most, and Grossman utterly fails to redeem him.
02 Certainly not.
03 ---
04 ---
05 ---
06 “Too meta” gives it too much credit.
07 I'm not convinced the real beast WAS Martin.
08 Assholes.
09 I, too, have a compulsive need to finish things. And haters gotta hate.

10 On lazy conjuring: For me, the Watcherwoman’s over-the-mantle entrances in Act I fail to properly presuppose the death of her timepiece in Act III. I lack patience with characters who apparate on bureaus or ottomans or bathtubs to explain what has occurred while I’ve been busy reading 300 pages about fox sex and well-hung rock monsters, and I resent it here. In a book about restitching the seams of fantasy, the seams of fantasy (and not just those related to fantasy's failings) should show. There’s a reason so few of us knew who the beast was before he removed his anti-Eden facebranch. Show rather than tell, Lev ol’ buddy.  

amanda said...

(from amanda, thwarted by ye commenting platform; 1 of 2. - ed.)  

11 On sublunary lovers/maidens no more: Whether or not it is unethical for Grossman to reinforce mores about monogamy and the wages of adultery, and irresponsible to do so after modeling a neglectful swain, the message--you can be a dickface so long as you don’t fuck anyone else--doesn't knock the wind out of any worlds. The Watcherwoman, too, crosses a line when she notes that Quentin shouldn’t be too hard on Martin “eats magician hands” Chatwin because Plover sexually abused (no, I'm sorry--“diddled”) Martin as a child. Does the potential for beastly stigmatization of sexual-abuse victims concern anyone else here? Should Martin be forgiven his world-wracking actions because of the coarse pattern traced on his boyish gossamer? Paging Dan Savage, indeed.

12 We all know that fantasy realized can’t fix everything, that worlds upon worlds be gray. From where I sit, Grossman’s sleight of hand is in convincing a bunch of grown-ups to spend 402 pages with the kind of person they know better than to befriend: The kind who can’t make his own magic.

Willow said...

Ugh, this is so late. Too late? Ah well.
1. He's gotta be. He reminded me of friends' ex-boyfriends - all that self-righteous anger at Alice. Ugh.
2. Yes. My TV trajectory is pretty much identical to @amidprivilege's at the moment. All I ever talk about is the Taylors. I could see Schwartzman as Quentin - good angst levels - but I always pictured him taller and ganglier. Like Andrew Garfield.
3. I must confess, I saw similarities with Tana French. The Quentin/Alice thing reminded me of Rob/Cassie Maddox in In the Woods. And the clubroom made me think of that big old house full of young people in the Likeness (Not to mention both made me think of her Tarttness).
4. Never. But I am all about the sigils.
5. Considering I had a brush with getting some ruby slippers tattoed on me when I was a teen (but never worked up the gonfalons to get 'em) mine would probably be some kind of Oz-type creature. Hopefully not those rollerblading creeps from Return to Oz.
6. I think much of the meta went over my head. Most of the time I was trying to search the crevices of my memory for what actually happened in the Narnia books, with little success.
7. Not until the reveal! I'm so blinkered. Until then all I had was Magritte.
8. I love the previous commenter's point about the liberal arts degree, and I think you've nailed it with intelligence and privilege. And perhaps some kind of obligation/responsibility. All that pressure they feel reminds me of my parents asking constantly "But what will you DO with an English Lit degree?" And then I graduated and was like Oh god what am I going to DO with this degree!
9. Yes, out of compulsion (and because the scholar Harkness is holding out on me with the rest of her trilogy).

kidchamp said...

you should absolutely read brideshead revisited, jamie - it's melancholy and dazzling and deeply wise about family dynamics and the love affairs we have with our best friends. you should then, if you're interested in some old-school TV action, check out the 1981 miniseries starring jeremy irons. sure, i would watch jeremy irons tile a bathroom, but here he's working with, like, laurence oliver and john gielgud. also diana quick as julia wears the best outfits ever. i blame my recent fixation on sequins almost entirely on her. 

re: 05, maybe manray is your cacodemon? (ha - when i just googled him i came up with the post in which you linked the last time i mentioned him here. probably i should name-check him all the time.)

re: 09, i will admit that i'm toying with asking you guys to read the magician king for a second book group, though it would probably mean chloroforming poor katherine and stealing her away in the night.

kidchamp said...

re: 08, magic does represent assholes - if you'll forgive the seeming trivialization of current events, brakebills is kind of the 1% incarnate, no? 

re: 09, i hope this means you'll join us for this potential nominally-bloodless sequel-chat.

re: 11, your point about the potential stigmatization of sexual-abuse victims... is a really good one, and it embarrasses me, because while the weird, casual "diddled" passage was offensively flip, i didn't really stop to think about it that way. 

re: 12, BLURB OF DEATH! i went to tony soprano as a counterexample, but 1) he does make his own magic, or one could at least argue that he does, and 2) maybe other people hate him much more than i do. maybe quentin will blossom in the next 402? 

kidchamp said...

re: 02 good call on andrew garfield! or...who's that kid from into the wild who kind of looks like junkie leo dicaprio? or what about penn "ol' pebble-teeth" badgley? he could lose some weight, flash the pebbles, and maybe pull it off. 

re: 03, oh god, totally! though they're at the opposite ends of the emotional-language spectrum - tana french is some kind of thriller-writin' kazuo ishiguro when it comes to the anatomies of the relationships she creates. and where is that last book? if she's going to keep holding out on her own trilogy, maybe she could write a third book for grossman?

re: 06, i've considered re-reading the narnia books; i haven't done so since elementary school, surely, and i'd like to have another look now that i've read philip pullman. also i've taken so many shots at him over the years that i feel i owe him an audience as an open-minded adult. 

furiousmuse said...

01 I think Q's very real. I think that there are guys out there who are assholes like that, and he is fantastically dysfunctional along with being completely blind to his true selt. He could be on "The Bachelor," no doubt. He's all about winning the game.

02 good grief, I watch too much TV these days. more books please. or a movie. serial television takes over my life (though in the case of Game of Thrones, I obliged happily)

03 not familiar with the text, so I can't respond...

04 nope!

05 a band/music geek.

06 FAIL. I have not seen Scarface. And I missed the gauntlet reference. Yep. 

07 At the point the characters did...there was no dramatic irony for me. 

to be continued...