Saturday, 24 March 2007

The Magus by John Fowles

The Magus by John Fowles

The original book appeared in 1965, but the version I read was the revised edition of 1978. I had held off reading this well-known book for many years, because of the experience in my student days of first being mesmerised by his superb ‘The French Lieutenant’s woman’, and then being profoundly let down my his dreary ‘Daniel Martin’. This book grabbed and obsessed me, and messed with my mind, as the Magus (Conchis) does with the protagonist. If you embark on reading this book, I warn you that you need to make sure you have nothing else too urgent to do, for you will be hooked.

The story builds up with mysterious and tantalising hints, and the reader is eager to push forward into forbidden territory, possibly facing ancient gods and recent ghosts. There is a silky and frustrating sexiness to the events, like a series of temptations, which rise to a screaming crescendo. The book has many sub-stories told mainly by Conchis about his purported early life. These a fascinating stories in the own right, and seem to shed light on the current mysteries faced by the protagonist, but after a while we find we cannot trust anything. Conchis admits he lies, and then spins another tale, and sets another scene, like Prospero’s visions in Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’.

The problem for me is that the climax comes at least 100 pages before the end, and after that I felt the story drifted. I realised there would never be an explanation, though I accepted the ethos of the book that there will never be complete clarity or knowledge. It is just that the book lost its drive, and I found it an effort to complete.

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