Customer Review

22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Twisted Genius, 20 Aug 2006
This review is from: The Magus (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
The novelist Kingsley Amis was once asked what he would do differently if he could live his whole life over again. He paused for a few seconds before replying 'well I wouldn't read The Magus by John Fowles'. It's a clever answer to a tired question but, in Kingsley's situation, I'd have to disagree - I've already read The Magus a couple of times and I can see myself reading it again in the near future - but it does put across the point that The Magus is not a book that appeals to everyone. Wilfully perverse in places, and with a plot that twists and bends like a mountain road, this is a novel that requires a certain suspension of belief. It has it's own internal logic, and yet it exists a long way outside of everyday experience. If you like gritty realism this most definitely is not the book for you, but if you like the sinister and surreal - Shakespeare's The Tempest viewed through a dark and distorting mirror perhaps - then The Magus will leave a lasting and positive impression.

Nicholas Urfe, highly educated but callow and self-important, takes a job as a school teacher on the Greek island of Phraxos. Here he becomes enthralled by one of the island's residents, Conchis, and the twins June and Julie, who, so it gradually appears, live with him. As the weeks pass Nicholas becomes ever more entwined in the spell Conchis weaves, losing track of what is real and what is fantasy, and finding himself increasingly unsure of who he can trust. Even Nicholas's former girlfriend Alison, whom he meets once again at the mid-point of the book, appears to be something quite other from what he first believed.

There is a definite hard edge to the novel. Nicholas isn't a likeable character, being rather humourless and, in paricular, rather unpleasant to the loyal Alison. Some of the situations in which he finds himself are so fantastic that they become implausible, and yet there is a great deal of imagination on display here and, through some truly superb writing, Fowles manages to hold the whole thing together and deliver a truly original and meaningful novel: a modern day discourse on the nature and meaning of love, loyalty, trust, identity and friendship. It probably is fair to say that The Magus is a young person's book - I first read it at the age of seventeen and it opened up whole new ideas about the power of literature for me, as well as giving me a sense of adventure and wonder that very few novels since have ever matched - but on each subsequent reading, while some of the more fantastical elements of the plot now strike me as a little over done, I have found new details and twists that had previously escaped me.

The Magus is a long novel, and it does make demands on one's concentration (as indeed, does any good book), but it is a true original. Well worth a look if you want to give your imagination a good workout.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 18 Jan 2010 02:38:02 GMT
Eileen Shaw says:
I read The Magus when I was in my teens but now can't remember a single image or word from it. I quite liked The French Lieutenant's Woman and the one about the bloke who won the football pools and kidnapped a girl (Terence Stamp and Samantha Eggar in the film - wow, what a memory!). So there you have it. A selective memory, or a memory fit for a veteran Trivial Pursuitist.

In reply to an earlier post on 18 Jan 2010 11:05:39 GMT
I probably liked The Magus the most of all Fowles's novels, although both The Collector and The French Lieutenant's Woman are superb. The film of the Collector was fabulous - I always thought Samantha Eggar should have been right up there with Julie Christie as a British 60s/70s film icon but sadly it never quite happened for her. I remember reading The Collector and waiting for that happy ending to kick in ... how wrong I was......
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