Hmmmm… This book is a quandary for me. I adored the beginning. Up to about three-fourths of the way through there was no way I would not give this book less than a five-star review. My issue came towards the end and had a lot to do with a level of entitlement in the magic community Grossman created. These are the brightest people in the world and they can do anything they want. The response is to work on ridiculous concepts of magic that have no application or float off into the real world to drown their depression and disappointment in alcohol in drugs. Why? The world wasn’t what they hoped for. When they achieve something they want there is a brief fleeting moment of happiness but it goes away and they are left wanting. I do understand this is a key theme to the book. That doesn’t mean it did not frustrate me.
Quinten has aced every test he has ever taken, he has won every competition he has been in, he is in an elite school, and he is getting ready to interview for Colleges. While waiting for tan interview his friends Julia and James are waiting with him. James and Julia are an item and Quintin is in love with Julia. He would never come between James and Julia but he’s tired of being the sidekick. When they arrive at their interview the door is open with no response. Quinten in a moment of not wanting to be the perfect James enters without invitation and a dead body is found. After waiting several hours the paramedic let’s them know they can go but offers James and Quinten envelopes found on the desk with their names on it. James being James refuses, but Quintin fighting his sidekick jealousy takes it trying to prove something to himself. This envelope leads him on a journey to a school he’s never heard of, Brakebills. They assume he is there to interview, explain why he should test, and ignore the fact that he’s never heard of this prestigious academy.
The test is the strangest thing he’s ever seen, but he makes it in. They told him he would have to start before the end of his senior year, and without a thought for his parents of friends he agrees. He even opts to stay the two weeks so he didn’t have to go back home to Brooklyn. Since Brakebill’s is a school for magicians they can arrange it so his parents don’t worry. You may be wondering at this point, was Quintin abused? Were his parent evil? Did they lock him in a cupboard? The answer is no to all of the above, they are just normal and he couldn’t bear to return to normalcy.
His training is strenuous, the challenges are endless, and yes they have to study very hard. He still gets advance a year with the smartest girl in the class that intrigues every one. This being said even when they get sent to Brakebills South, an extremely stressful and harrowing experience, Quinten succeeds where most of his peers do not. He is a powerful magician. So what does this mean? He and Alice figure their situation out, but there seems to be no direction after University and that is all Quinten wants. What he really learns is there is no next test, there is no next expectation, there is only life. He is purposeless and what he has doesn’t make him happy. He lives with his friends from school in New York but he doesn’t study, there are funds available for magicians so he doesn’t have to work. So, he parties. He sees no consequence and feels no pull to do anything. This frustrates Alice. She wants to be the type of magician that changes things, makes them better.
Quinten, takes what he has for granted, he makes decisions that are disastrous, but doesn’t take accountability. It does make him take advantage of a “quest” to Fillory, a fictional magical world that bears remarkable resemblance to Narnia. Many things happen and I would hate to spoil it for you but even finding his dream of Fillory doesn’t make him happy. It has been stated that “ignorance is bliss” and that there is a remarkable correlation to Depression and high IQ’s. To take it further several sociological studies have shown that the more individualistic a society is like America or Britain, etc. there is increased levels of anxiety in people compared to collectivist societies that have more choices decided for you. Grossman seems to be making a strong commentary on the fact that getting everything you ever wanted, whether you worked for it or not, does not make people happy.
I was okay with Quinten having a crisis of depression because he didn’t know how to be happy. I understand it in high school and even in university. That being said Quinten had a lot to be happy about. He chose not to be and it became frustrating to read his infantile whining. I had no pity for him once he set for a path of destruction after University. Even when he is supposed to see the light at the end of the book I would argue is in essence ‘wearing a hair shirt” to atone without changing his behaviors. It allowed him to believe himself a martyr and drown in self-pity.
This is a well written New Adult novel. I can see why people have been impressed with it. I can appreciate the book, but I do not believe I liked it. I hope it gets better in the books that follow. I have not decided if I am willing to read them yet.