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10 December 2011 @ 10:22 am
#34 - #41  
The Magicians, Lev Grossman


This only even works as a story if you decide early on it's a bad Narnia fanfic. I mean, c'mon on, he doesn't even TRY! Talking animals, Children of Earth, English children finding their way to a magical land through a GRANDFATHER CLOCK OH MAN THAT'S NOTHING AT ALL LIKE A WARDROBE. Quentin is possibly the most unsympathetic hero in the history of fantasy. In fact, by the end, I wondered if that wasn't the point - was Grossman actually trying to write the antithesis of all alternate-reality stories by making everything and everyone dull, boring and disenchanted? The writing was so incoherent I just have to assume he wrote the whole thing as a joke. It's so lazy it's not even bad, it's just a string of nothing held together by more nothing.

Oh and what was up with all the 'Victorian-looking' style descriptions? Either Victorian or not, dude. Make up your fucking mind.

... this all being said, I still ordered the sequel. I'm curious as to why he's doing this. Where is he taking it? What does he hope to achieve? It's all unclear.

Snuff, Terry Pratchett

I loved young Sam.

A friend of mine said that this was Pratchett back on form. I'm not sure I agree. The plot is still too sprawling. Classic Pratchett is super-tight. There's also the fact that, for a book about goblins, we hardly ever hear about goblins. The lyrical names versus their supposedly grimy lifestyles is a nice quirk but not enough to sum up their entire existence, and that's really all we got. And - they saved the world with a song? Really? REALLY?

I could have done without the usual Greek chorus of fumbling bad guys and one super-villain. We've seen them all before and they make the inevitability of Sam's victory that bit more boring. What you live for with Pratchett is the small victories, like Carrot putting a sword into stone and then taking it out again. I dunno. And yet the very last line made me cry. I do love this world and these characters so very much.

The Story Girl, L.M. Montgomery

This was cute and welcoming, just like pretty much everything of LM's that I've read. However, the story meanders like no one's business, and in fact there is no plot, just excuses for the Story Girl to tell stories. And whoa, she's like Anne without the charm. There seems to be way more religion in this than I remember from other books, or perhaps it's more obvious. I think the first-person perspective also throws me off, because it made it hard to distinguish between the boys for a long time..

The Golden Road, L.M. Montgomery

I love cats, but man did I get hella sick of the travails of Paddy. He's the most hypochondriac cat in the history of literature, not to mention being the only plot-driver. I also get irritated with these vague diagnoses plus premonitions of death in characters. You can't 'look consumptive'. Consumption is TB, and that doesn't just hang around for decades. It's a virulent infection that can kill you even in 2011, let alone 1911. If you caught it as a child or a baby you'd be dead and what's more, you'd know about it while you had it. arlkajsdhf!

It's really sad book, actually, because everyone leaves and you can tell how boring the King's children's lives will be without the Story Girl and Beverley. Talk about depressing.

Kilmeny of the Orchard, L.M. Montgomery

Holy hellcats Batman, this was some creepy paedophile-grooming shit. I didn't understand whether L.M. was trying to say God did punish Kilmeny for her mother's sin by giving her this one, cute disability (and also a savant talent at music - with no training! what!) or not. Plus, random hating on Italians. What.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, F. Scott Fitzgerald

Not really a book, per se, but oh well! This read as very emotionally detached. I'm not sure what the word is for separating the reader from the action by using a certain tense, or way of writing, but he does it here (L.M. Montgomery does it all the time). I got the impression you were supposed to hate everyone in the story, including Benjamin. The movie, which I haven't seen, seemed to give it an emotional 'oh noes' side, but he presents it as merely ridiculous. Interesting but not loveable.

All Clear, Connie Willis

I'm so sad about this! I spent the whole book - much as I spent the previous book - waiting for the three characters to stop bumbling about and have the interesting part begin. And it never did. The eternal confusion and roadblocks they experienced were probably quite realistic for the time and place, but as a build-up to the finale it was mind-numbing.

The big reveal itself was actually insulting. Compared to her previous work on time travel - watching someone you love die in the Plague while a modern plague rages back in the future; REVERSING THE EXTINCTION OF CATS!!! - 'time travellers save the world' was ... dull. Prosaic. And risible.

And done before, oh my fucking god. Plus, if they really did save the world by being in place to create little pools of day-to-day victory, why didn't the continuum let them shoot Hitler? Or at least try? And why the endless focus on the idea of shooting Hitler, when he was merely the figurehead for something much bigger? Yes, he was instrumental in setting off the first pebble of the avalanche, but by the time the war started the machine he set in motion would undoubtedly have continued without him. And while if you'd stopped him being born, there might not have been the raging anti-Semitism or the concentration camps, but there still would have been a war, and it still would have been terrible because of all the lessons from WWI they enlarged upon.

And why don't revisionist historians ever focus on shooting Stalin, who did what Hitler did on a far bigger scale and for much longer? I was rolling my eyes at the constant allusions to 'stopping the spread of Hitler's evil' and how if he'd won 'his' evil would have taken over the world, without once mentioning Germans. Because I don't suppose it's okay in 2011 to say that a Germanic influence on European history would have been teh ebul, except for OH WAIT THEY SAVED EUROPE JUST NOW BY GIVING EVERYONE MONEY. So I guess the German people have paid their dues but no one's ever going to let them off for Hitler (who wasn't even German). Plus, did Willis get God or something since the last book? What was with the Christ at the door imagery all over the shop? Are we saying Christians saved the world from Hitler? Because I'm pretty sure he was some version of Christian himself...

I was told the characters grew in this book. I did not find that to be the case. A bit of fear from Eileen, a smidge of impatience and random geriatric love from Polly, and pointless lying from Mike who continued the theme with a pointless death. I did like the idea of Eileen staying behind, but I thought it was executed so badly. I mean, sure, she left her two 'great friends' (you what?) behind, but she also left her actual friends, and her parents!

A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan

I'm always curious, when books come with taglines like 'a virtuoso performance', as to what the reviewer saw in them that I didn't. 'A virtuoso performance' is to literature and its aspirants what 'a fast-paced page turner that keeps you hooked' is to thrillers and crime novels. What is the gain in putting generic reviews on books? They have never once, in my experience, referred to anything specific about the book, its writing or its events. The only review I've ever seen that made me want to read the book in question was in a Terry Prachett, from a BBC reviewer: "A complete amateur. Doesn't even write in chapters." This at the top of a long list of composite computer-generated 'yay book!' reviews. It was funny. It suggested that the writer also thought it funny and in that case, our senses of humour might match well enough for me to enjoy the book. Success!

Anyway, I didn't think this was a virtuoso performance by any means, nor did the titular goon squad show up anywhere, but it was a lot better than I expected. Egan's background appears to be in short stories and it shows. Every chapter, which was about a different interlinked character, was a self-contained story which dealt with one event in the person's life before detailing exactly what happened to them for the rest of their life in two paragraphs. It wasn't a bad way of writing, but it was rather puzzling. It also omitted a few people, mentioned briefly, who never get their life story finished. I was left wondering what happened to them.

The last chapter was set in the near future in a world post-large scale war with new technology. It seemed to be an anti-facebook screed, where everyone was angry that the government knew their favourite colour. Yes, facebook and co. can release lots of information about you to the world, but a) it's only the information YOU put in and b) everyone works on the assumption that anyone will actually care when, in fact, they usually don't. Facebook itself is a huge movement by many people to make other people give a shit about their daily lives, and failing. This chapter's tone was totally out of kilter with the tone and aim of the rest of the book and really let it down. It should have been cut. I'm guessing the only reason it stayed in was because it contained the book's only reference to goons, and they could have lost the title and the chapter with ease. (The Death of Punk, maybe?)
Current Mood: accomplishedaccomplished
Current Music: little girl's song from Moneyball
Online I'm a Giantparthenia14 on December 10th, 2011 10:32 am (UTC)
I ended up hating the Magicians. There were some nice bits but I lost the will to live about two-thirds of the way through, about the time they go to fake-Narnia. I've read lots about how this is way better than Harry Potter, and NO IT REALLY ISN'T.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: jillicons: revolutionsscoradh on December 10th, 2011 11:23 am (UTC)
The nonsense about Quentin never, ever, EVER being satisfied or happy began to grate. That is also exactly how the next book starts. I'm all for quests to find eternal happiness but not when they FAIL. Also, it seemed like he was trying to deconstruct the whole kid-fantasy genre while basing his knowledge entirely on Harry Potter and Narnia. Like he just read those series and thought, "Hey, I can shit all over that." It'd be like trying to deconstruct romance literature having read just Emma and Circle of Friends. Not a well-rounded basis for his critique, is what I'm saying.
Online I'm a Giant: emo textparthenia14 on December 10th, 2011 06:14 pm (UTC)
Equally, he might have thought Circle of Friends looked way too easy to write.

There was just no plot. Some nice ideas that just withered and died. And no sense of humour, IIRC. I didn't realise there was a sequel. I guess it was quite popular, then.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: owlsscoradh on December 11th, 2011 01:10 am (UTC)
Absolutely NO sense of humour, which could have been his saving grace. If he wasn't so goddamn pretentious about the whole thing it could have worked.
catnip jonesrumpleghost on December 10th, 2011 11:30 am (UTC)
Hah, I am midway through reading The Magician King this very evening. I can totally understand how one might not like the book and especially how one wouldn't like Quentin -- he's a very particular sort of character, and it's a very particular sort of book, but... badly/lazily written? Seriously?
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: halowrites: tiger kittenscoradh on December 10th, 2011 11:36 am (UTC)
Seriously! See my comment on describing things as 'x-looking'. The fact that the plot meanders all over the place, like he started each day going 'WHAT THE FUCK WILL I WRITE ABOUT NEXT, OH YEAH, WHY NOT TURN THEM INTO GEESE?!' The lack of fallout from each episode - like the one where Martin kills the girl, and it's Quentin's fault, and nobody gives half a shit least of all Quentin. The speech the headmaster gives about essentially 'things from the demon dimensions' that are never seen again. The whole lackadasical approach to describing Fillory (and seriously, what kind of lameass name is that, anyway). For writing to be good in my opinion it needs to be tighter, better characterised and less floppy. However, we have historically disagreed on practically every instance of this! It actually reassures me, because it reminds me there's a market for practically every type of writing and maybe even mine, should I ever finish anything.
catnip jonesrumpleghost on December 10th, 2011 11:41 am (UTC)
I thought the x-looking thing was a very deliberate nod to Quentin first identifying with and then getting sick of Brakebill's pretentiousness (so the same thing as when Quentin complains at the end about all the nicknames at Brakebills). It's interesting you complain that the only YA fantasy he'd based it on was Narnia & HP, because I saw a lot of different influences (Susan Cooper & Evelyn Waugh, for starters), and a lot of that was clear to me in the episodic nature of the chapters? I mean, it's all the old school stories! It's Enid Blyton & Kipling & the Chalet School novels. I've been rereading lots of them lately for various reasons and it totally made me think back to Brakebills, that sense of a SCHOOL STORY, boarding school stories, only wryly self-conscious.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: anumberonme tea party gunscoradh on December 10th, 2011 11:58 am (UTC)
But that hatred of pretentiousness puzzled me. He chose to go there in the first place to escape the workaday non-magical world. Then he does nothing but whine. It's pretty clearly authorial self-insertion because Grossman went to an Ivy League college and clearly never once appreciated the enormous privilege he had. That's what I get from Quentin. He should have FIRST-WORLD PROBLEMS tattooed on his face.

You always interrogate texts from an academic perspective and give them props for things like referencing Waugh - which I didn't see; I think I've only read two books by him? I don't, you see, I always come from the stance of knowing very little about literature and just demanding a good story for the layman. The problem for me is that he didn't engage with the school story. The fun with Harry Potter is learning to levitate a feather. The fun with Blyton is the prep on the lawn and the midnight feasts. The fun with the Chalet School is pretty much the same thing only ALPS. (I've hated Kipling ever since the misery that is Kim, so I can't comment there.) It's like we were supposed to know what Brakebills was already - like it was a Hogwarts fanfic - and nod wisely at his cleverness in taking the viewpoint that it's an archaic institution for assholes. I would totally read the fanfic that puts Hogwarts in that place, but this wasn't it. He didn't create enough to break down his own creation. (Prefaced always by 'I think', obviously!)
catnip jones: [yule] all they ask is where i've berumpleghost on December 11th, 2011 09:10 am (UTC)
Ugh, first world problems as a criticism of texts makes me kind of uncomfortable, to be honest. But also I guess we just have different perceptions of Brakebills, then, because for me it was very far from hatred of pretentiousness, more of a second-hand embarrassment; they're obviously characters that hugely embrace pretentiousness, because Quentin.... loves that school like crazy? Like, the second third of the book got a bit wearying for me in the way that he spends the whole time missing Brakebills, I really don't think you can accuse him of hating the school whatsoever. Which I guess is where we differ on the enjoyment of the school story -- I felt like he loved that school, and I loved that school, and I thought the worldbuilding was done beautifully and it was very far from just a criticism of the school. I don't think it was an archaic institution for assholes at all, and I don't think he thought that, I think he was just kind of laughing at his protagonist even as he revelled in him.

Waugh for me was just Brideshead Revisited, which was really clear for me especially in the early stages of the book (and especially in Eliot).
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: Bookishscoradh on December 11th, 2011 09:35 am (UTC)
I love the phrase 'first world problems'. And that tumblr 'whitepeopleproblems'. But in this case, in fairness, what I object to is Quentin's non-real-world problems. So he is: really smart; Ivy League accepted; not ugly, or we'd know about it; gets into a super dooper magical college; is quite good at it; is a jock on the magical sports team; graduates with loads of random money supplied to him (!!!); has sex with hot people; goes on adventures. And yet he is constantly just a whiny bitch about EVERYTHING. I understand that liking Quentin is a POV issue, but my POV is that of someone who works 32 hours shifts every week with no sleep and often very little food, whose government wants to NOT PAY ME LIKE EVER, dealing with the fact that things I do kill people, both intentionally and unintentionally, and worse of all, admin staff. I seriously wanted him to cop the fuck on and appreciate even one bit of his life, and the fact that he didn't is a huge failure in his character arc for me. (And the next book starts with him being bored. AGAIN.)

I thought the worldbuilding was hilariously patchy. We got a great description of the maze animals and they rest was just vaguely 'old- and mahogany-looking'. I don't think he devoted enough time to Brakebills at all. There are three? named teachers and maybe six or seven named students. When you think of the hosts of characters in Hogwarts, Narnia, Mallory Towers, Chalet School, it just doesn't compare. And that game, with the squares!, like, was he high? That didn't even make sense.

Oh, I totally see Eliot as Sebastian Flyte; he gave one particularly good speech early on in the book, I think about art, and it gave me high hopes of it being repeated. I also thought there might have been some element of fic!Draco stuck in there, although that might just been fandom goggles. But it was weirdly uncapitalised-upon; I was totally waiting for Quentin and Eliot to have a big gay doomed romance. Five minutes of a threesome so doesn't count.

Yeah, anyway, I did not love this book and I was really puzzled by it. It's one of those times I'm actually tempted to try and find interviews where he explains his motivations and influences and so on. The kernel of his idea was awesome, I just didn't think it grew very well.

oopsoddishly on December 10th, 2011 12:56 pm (UTC)
I agree!

Also, hi hi! I'm sorry I never got back to you on Christmas /o\ Again, see REALLY REALLY BAD at time management, and this last fortnight just hasn't stopped. What are your plans? <333333!
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on December 11th, 2011 01:39 am (UTC)
Hey! Well, I turned out to have three Christmas parties this week, so I'm staying around to observe any potential scandal (obvs I never create any; that is not my life). I also have an exam to study for and I've passed 50,000 words on my 'book', so I'm hoping to make it to sixty! Sounds like your life is fun and hectic too, so that's good. :D
(Deleted comment)
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on December 11th, 2011 01:19 am (UTC)
I think I've read every Pratchett there is except that very first one he published before The Colour of Magic. :D
cleodoxa: moon birdscleodoxa on December 10th, 2011 11:45 pm (UTC)
I think that definitely was Grossman's point; he got the idea it would be terribly clever to have people get into a fantasy world and then be bored and disappointed and change their mind about what they wanted. It's part homage, part takedown, and Grossman doesn't show either the writing skills or the heart to make it work. I thought it was ultimately cheap and obvious. Some of the worldbuilding could have been enjoyable, in a fanfiction kind of way, but Grossman's ideas for doing stuff with it were either turgid or not there at all. It's like there's a heap of cliches and then there's a streak of self-conscious edginess and Grossman ultimately wasn't sure how to apply one to the other. I've got more bitter against it since I read it because it seems like everyone is like: despite its flaws, I loved it and want more!
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: disco ballscoradh on December 11th, 2011 01:21 am (UTC)
You've articulated exactly what I was trying to say. I think the idea of people being disappointed by their ideal fantasy world is terrifically interesting, but he just made it even more boring. But then the point of every fanfic I've ever written - if that can be taken as a valid argument - is that accepting the small joyful things is important and 'okay' is okay. (Or at least DIY Messiah. I definitely set out to broadcast that message in that fic. And people found it incredibly depressing, lol.)

The best example: the game he made up, which was obviously a pastiche of the boring pointlessness of Quidditch, but without the fun idea of FLYING SOCCER. Or the Fillory stories themselves, which were so empty and plot-scarce; they really showed how far he was reaching and how little he had to fill the space.
jehnt: bones - pair - dig itjehnt on December 11th, 2011 04:19 am (UTC)
ahahha, I love your office job rant. That is exactly how I am with my fiance. He complained over the last holiday week that he had to do half-days. HALF-DAYS. Like, seriously, 3 or 4 hours. Guess what I was doing? AT HOME WRITING FUCKING RESEARCH PAPERS ALL DAY AND NIGHT, THAT'S WHAT. Sigh.

I bought the Magicians (on sale, thankfully, for literally about $2) but haven't read it yet. Because the first page is boring. haha.

What is the gain in putting generic reviews on books? They have never once, in my experience, referred to anything specific about the book, its writing or its events. The only review I've ever seen that made me want to read the book in question was in a Terry Prachett, from a BBC reviewer: "A complete amateur. Doesn't even write in chapters." This at the top of a long list of composite computer-generated 'yay book!' reviews. It was funny. It suggested that the writer also thought it funny and in that case, our senses of humour might match well enough for me to enjoy the book. Success!

Whenever I come across a book that has completely random blurbs like that, I pick it up, figuring it MUST be good. But yes, 99% of all books have completely meaningless reviews. It's like how every single movie is "THE BEST FILM EVENT OF THE YEAR!" Even if it's like talking chihuahuas or something.

Also books that say things like "a virtuoso masterpiece," "a literary tour-de-force," or "a triumph" are almost invariably books I do not enjoy. Usually they are very angsty, and nothing really happens, and then somebody finds god, or something like god, and they're happy even though their life is crap, or maybe not. UGH HATE.

anyway hi.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Scene girls: blue crownsscoradh on December 11th, 2011 09:42 am (UTC)
I ... just, I'm weak at the thought of a job where I didn't routinely have to work weekends. And thus spend twelve consecutive days at work. About twice a month. Maybe next time casually say to him, "It could be worse. You could be up at five am dealing with people who have 'overdosed' on heroin, although technically every shot of heroin should be an overdose, and reigning in your catastrophic urge to throw your pen at their head and yell 'PLEASE GET STERILISED'." Just a thought. :P

The first page is deadly boring. The other pages continue this theme.

I would appreciate the honesty of someone saying: This film was kind of dumb but it ticked a few boxes for me. Watch when hungover. Or whatever. I know Eric Snider et all do say that, but they're not quoted on posters.

Yeah, looking at YOU, THOMAS PYNCHON. Eugh.

Heyyyy. :D
Sereniaserenia on December 11th, 2011 09:25 am (UTC)
Oh, no argument - 9-5 are great hours to work! Definitely beats hospitality split-shifts, too.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: Christmasscoradh on December 11th, 2011 09:39 am (UTC)
I think anyone dealing with the public at the coalface just has a shit time and this should be acknowledged by people who get to sit at nice desks with tape dispensers and swivelly chairs!
me: gleeful but also ice-coolsurexit on December 14th, 2011 12:10 pm (UTC)
Haha, yes on your 9-5 thing. I mean, I would hate a 9-5 office job, but fuck I would enjoy the hours and the ability to occasionally not be completely on at work.

Also, definitely agree that Snuff lacks goblins and is not Pratchett back on form.