Saturday, March 27, 2021

The Magic Circle by Jenny Davidson


Dark academia with shades of Ancient Greece? You know someone's out there ringing that "For those who liked THE SECRET HISTORY" cowbell. And I actually did love THE SECRET HISTORY, even if it is a pretentious paperweight of aspirational classism and intellectual snobbery, it was beautiful and dark and just a little bit smutty, and if there's something a dirty-minded pedant like me loves, it's literature with an actual bang. I actually loved THE MAGIC CIRCLE the first time I read it, too, as an ARC (almost ten years ago). Sometimes, when you read a book, you read it at just the right time and it ends up being a perfect fit-- and to me, fresh out of college and kind of broody and miserable, longing for the fiercely intelligent discourses and the safe-but-dangerous feeling of being ensconced with my peers, I found that it was basically everything I wanted. I loved this book.

I recently reread it and found to my regret that a lot of the sensationalism was lost on me this time. The way the characters talk is ridiculous. I don't think anyone actually talks like this outside of, say, fundraising parties being held at art museums or maybe college faculty meetings. It also seemed like it was trying a little too hard to be edgy, and since I prided myself on being ~edgy~ in my early twenties, maybe that was lost on me because, in my mind, this book was life! Now, reading it as an older adult, I was like, "Nobody is like this!"

I'm giving it two stars because for the right reader, this will be a five star read. It's wild and daring and interesting, and the writing is good (when not reflecting dialogue). I thought the bits about games and game theory were fascinating and it's clear the author did a lot of research with the setting and the subjects of the book. I'm also giving it two stars because now that I've actually read THE SECRET HISTORY, this kind of feels like a derivative variation on the same themes. I'm so sad that I didn't enjoy this book as much the second time around-- that always feels like a brutal kick from Nostalgiaville-- but if the themes speak to you, and you feel like getting lost, you might enjoy it as much as I did in the first go.

2 out of 5 stars

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