11 September 2011

Recent Reading - an abundance of Quentins

The Magicians by Lev Grossman
This novel takes a very adult look at children's fantasy tropes, especially the likes of Hogwarts and Narnia.
Quentin Coldwater is a gifted teenager who discovers a magical world after finding a dead body at his Princeton interview. Quentin passes a difficult and perplexing set of tests and gains admission to Brakebills, the only magical college in North America. The book not only charts Quentin's four years at Brakebills -including the friendships, romance, magical tests and dangers- but the period of aimlessness and wasted twentysomething years that come after.

There is little that's glamorous about Quentin or his life, and magic isn't shown as a panacea for human problems, in fact it may be the opposite. It's a very modern fantasy, but isn't an urban fantasy. It encompasses both primary and secondary worlds, but isn't quite defined by either. It's a very personal story and we see Quentin warts and all as he comes into adulthood. While there's little sensawunda, there is a fair bit of action, which takes place between descriptions of everyday life which are familiar in their mundanity, even if it is a magician's version of mundanity.
Grossman has managed to write a fantasy that responds to and engages with the magical thinking present in so much of the rest of the genre, and this makes it refreshingly different.

Entirely coincidentally the next book I read also starred a Quentin.

Paper Towns by John Green
This is another great book from the author of the excellent Looking for Alaska.
Quentin Jacobsen has always loved his neighbour Margo Roth Speigelman. They aren't really friends by the time they reach their final year of high school so he is surprised and excited the night she knocks on his window and takes him on a late night prank spree. Then Margo disappears on one of her trips, her parents say they won't let her come back home this time, and Quentin finds himself investigating the hidden life of Margo Roth Speigelman.

This is a great book by turns funny, insightful, intriguing and poignant. It includes poetry by Walt Whitman, crass humour, a sense of dread, and an exploration of how we relate to people. It's nice to see a book in which a girl who is the object of the main character's affection is shown to be both more and less than he expects her to be. Quentin realises that he put Margo on a pedestal and discovers that not only did he fail to understand her, but so did everyone who knew her. Everyone has their own version of Margo, and none of them can explain her. The book played with my expectations at every step and I honestly wasn't sure how it would end.
This is a great book and I would recommend John Green's books to any teens (or indeed adults) who want an interesting, entertaining and also meaningful read.

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