Making Faces (1999)

‘Oh. Have you done that… yourself?’ are words often directed at me by f139654-1riends, family and occasionally complete strangers at the bus stop. So I’ll stand up straight away and admit that I cut my own hair.

My daily beauty regime involves little more than Vitamin E moisturiser in a subtle shade of Tippex and some rather uneven black eyeliner. So it’s a real treat to step foot in a place every now and again where professionals trained in the art of hairdressing and skin care can politely suggest that I  should try a) a trim that isn’t done by my own hand with some old nail scissors  and b) an eye-shadow that isn’t ‘blush neutral’ over ‘pale ivory’ for a change.

AND my hairdressers top off their cheap magazine stack with classic beauty books like  Making Faces. A couple of glasses of wine later, and a neat trick with hairspray on a large bath brush, it was almost had me hooked. After a book which recommended two sparkly eyes covered in colours I would NEVER have been bold enough to choose myself I was feeling very girly indeed.

So well done Kevyn Aucoin and Gena Rowlands (wherever they are in the make-up world) and thank you to the lovely Frankie of Architect Hair for  your delightful tact – giving yourself away only by the ever so slight cracking of your voice when you asked, ‘Do you…er…do this at home?’.

Yes, I do, I’m afraid. Yes, I do. And there’s no number of beauty books which can stop that from happening…

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Lev Grossman’s The Magicians (2009)

There are times when reminiscing is a good thing. Having an arctic roll fthemagiciansor dessert can bring back glorious memories of playing Ski Sunday down the stairs on tea trays. Or of building birds’ nests from the fresh grass cuttings (just in case a passing eagle fancied popping down for a long perch). Or trying super hard to swing the swings ALL the way round in the playground.

All these things we store in our happy place.

However.

When I read that Lev Grossman’s The Magicians was a magic novel that tipped its hat to Narnia I thought it could be kitsch and fun.

If Narnia had been conceived by Stephen King this comparison could perhaps come close to the truth. Would it be possible for Grossman’s characters to be anymore loathsome? I’m not sure you could call Quentin Coldwater a protagonist let alone a hero because he seems to have NO redeeming qualities. For the record, I’m not a reader who needs a taintless protagonist. For instance, Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin from China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station. He’s not the best guy in the world. In fact, he’s pretty sleazy, but among his glaring, douche-y faults, he has one shining, likeable quality, and that one likeable quality wants me to see him succeed in everything he tries.

Quentin? I want him to fail. I want him to lose his magic. I want his life in the fantasy world to end so that he can’t EVER go on another quest again. He’s a ‘magician’ who hacks into ATMs because he practically leaks greed and apathy. He bewitches corporations into giving him a desk job where he sits and plays Minesweeper all day and still makes bank. The other characters? Even worse. Juila, a twenty-something magician described as a ‘freight train of magical pedagogy’ throws a rock through a sports car window. Another one, Eliot, has to find the Seven Golden Keys of Filory. But he bangs on about how wonderful he is whilst doing it, and says: ‘I could imagine finding one every few years.  Organize my holidays around it’.

And my goodness the plethora of pop culture references.

You can’t immerse yourself in a fantasy when you’re being bombarded with Dune references and Harry Potter references and Lord of the Rings references. Give me a fantasy where I can lose myself and not be reminded over and over again that I’m reading a book because that, though Grossman may not know it for whatever reason, is why I picked it up in the first place.

That’s right. I found this book utterly dreary from start to finish. Even the Arctic fox sex scene which made the coffee go sour in my mouth.

I hear Grossman is planning on writing more of these travesties. Count. Me. Out.