jueves, 23 de octubre de 2014

The Magician's Land, by Lev Grossman

(Disclaimer: English is my second language, so I want to apologize in advance for there may be mistakes in the text below. If you find any, please let me know so that I can correct it. I'd really appreciate it. Thanks.)

Review Soundtrack: I suggest reading this review while listening to Never Ending Story by Limahl (Spotify, YouTube).

Although I enjoyed The Magician King quite a lot, I confess that I didn't see the point of the book when it was published. The Magicians was not only a better novel, but one that perfectly stood on its own and didn't ask for a sequel. Fortunately, The Magician's Land, the third installment of the saga, gives new meaning to the two previous books and is a perfect ending for the trilogy.

The Magician's Land is, again, a highly meta-literary book. Of course, the parallelism with the Harry Potter and Narnia sagas are evident and central to the plot. But there are also such disparate elements as references to Shakespeare and scenes that pay (explicit) homage to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And, especially, I couldn't help finding a strong resemblance to some of the main themes and topics of Michael Ende's The Neverending Story.

The Magician's Land is, above all, a story about acceptance. About facing life, in all its cruelty and all its glory. As one of the characters puts it:
It was so utterly pointless. Maybe that's what the ghost was trying to teach her: it's all pointless. Fate is coming whatever you do, so quite wriggling around, it's already making you look more ridiculous than you already do. We're all ghosts here, you just don't look like one yet.
Or, later:
It was funny about magic, how messy and imperfect it was. When people said something worked like magic they meant that it cost nothing and did exactly what you wanted it to. But there were lots of things magic couldn't do. It couldn't raise the dead. It couldn't make you happy. It couldn't make you good-looking. And even with the things it could do, it didn't always do the right. And it always, always cost something.
You will notice here some of the cynicism (nihilism, even) that was present in the previous two books. The Magician's Land is, however, much more open to hope than the other two novels. Not because decisions are now easier for Quentin and his friends, but because they have grown up and are learning to accept life as adults, with its good and its bad, not trying to dodge responsibilities with an easy and effortless magic trick. There are no easy answers to life's problems and they are beginning to realize and to come to terms with the fact: 
"No." Quentin closed his eyes. "I still have no idea what magic is for. Maybe you just have to decide for yourself. But you definitely have to decide. It's not for sitting on my ass, which I now because I've tried that. Am I making any sense?"
The Magician's Land is a story about growing up, yes, but it is not your typical coming of age story. Quentin is not a teenager anymore, and he intimately knows pain, loss and grief. But that is not the end of the story. Grossman's decision to take his characters a step further is right on spot and makes the book so much more interesting. In that sense, the final part of the novel is just excellent, given closure not only to all the open threads but also, and more importantly, to the development of the characters. 

The book has also much more humor than the previous installments. The dialog is, sometimes, really funny and some of the characters (Janet, especially) are almost self-parodic. This lightens the tone of the novel without making it less profound or meaningful. In fact, I found that Grossman has evolved as a writer and the prose is the best in the series so far. 

For all its virtues, the novel also has some minor problems. The fist half of the book is a bit disjointed, with three different and parallel plots and multiple flashbacks. There are some scenes that could have been edited without loosing much, making the novel tighter. And at least one the final twists can be seen coming from a mile away. Many of these issues are redeemed by the end of the book, but the reader has to faith in Grossman's to tie everything up (which he does almost perfectly). 

All in all, I highly recommend The Magician's Land. It may not be as good as The Magicians, but I think it is way better than The Magician King and a very satisfying conclusion to the trilogy. If you have read the first two installments, believe me, you don't want to miss this one. 

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