The Magus Paperback – 13 Feb 1997
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"A major work of mounting tensions in which the human mind is the guinea-pig... Mr Fowles has taken a big swing at a difficult subject and his hits are on the bull's eye" (Sunday Telegraph)
"A deliciously toothsome celebration of wanton story-telling" (Sunday Times)
"A splendidly sustained piece of mystification" (Financial Times)
"One of those that's best read as a teenager, but once read you'll never forget it" (Katy Guest The Independent)
"Suspend disbelief and enjoy a master storyteller" (Christie Hickman Sunday Express)
A novel which explores the complexities of the human mind. On a remote Greek island, Nicholas Urfe finds himself embroiled in the deceptions of a master trickster. Surreal threads weave ever tighter as reality and illusion intertwine in a bizarre psychological game.See all Product description
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I've read Fowles before but always avoided The Magnus presicely for that reason.
Such is the complexity of the prose it's hard to believe the author was only 28 when he wrote it. It's precocious for sure, full of insightful observations and provocative ideas.
The storyline itself is highly unlikely and extremely ambitious but Fowles is one of those rare authors with the literary skills to pull it off; just when I found myself giving it up as too far fetched he completely swings it around again and makes it credible. A common complaint among the reviews is that it's pretentious and self indulgent, but I'd disagree with that sentiment; the alleged pretentiousness is reasoned and backed up by mainstream psychology; it's also over-indulgent rather than self-indulgent.
But if you strip away the excess what you're left with is a biopic of the 1950s British male.
A woman beater who twice smashes women across the face when he loses his temper and on other occasions talks about not being able to wait to get his hands on them (to beat them) In short he resorts to physical violence towards women when they annoy him.
One of his assaults took place in a public park, witnessed by bystanders who just stood by and did nothing. That's the way it was in 50s Britain, when domestic abuse was considered acceptable.with the women always on the receiving end of it of course.
Then there’s racist overtones in the storyline too. Nicholas is appalled when he discovers the upper middle class white girl he’s fixated with is sleeping with a black man.
You have to ask yourself, is Nicholas, Fowles' alter ego? Are Nicholas's period attitudes the author's too?
Maybe so, but I think Fowles recognized this and laid it bare. And after all it was written in the fifties and set in 1953 when racism and domestic abuse were prevalent in Britain.
The other flaw in the book was Nicholas' relationship with Alison. He ditched her even before he met and fell in love with another girl, so why he should be vilified for it throughout the book, I don’t know. Their relationship sits awkwardly in the book; it just doesn’t make sense. People don't get married because only one of them is in love. His crime, if he committed one, is that he didn't love her. Fowles highlights the cultural and class differences between the two, which takes us to that other fifties obsession - class-distinction.
For all it's faults and excesses the book is mostly brilliant. It's peculiar, odd, strange, but it works, the 669 pages keep you glued for the most part.. Fowles was good albeit odd, he only wrote a handful of novels but they were all very original, no more so than The Magnus.
Generally considered to be his masterpiece, Fowles’ novel is ‘post-modern’ – which I assume means that the works of William Faulkner, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce et al, are taken as read, ie a foundation upon which Fowles builds his epic examination of the validity of the novel in a post holocaust age. He achieves this by not just adding elements of time, which he stretches and distorts, but by adding depictions of cinematic and graphic art. The reason that Urfe tries to get rid of Alison is that he’s become enchanted with Lily who he’s met on the Greek island and who seems to be a kind of prisoner of a charismatic Greek landowner, art collector, psychologist/philosopher called Maurice Conchis. Conchis’s philosophy is that ‘novels are useless and dead.’ He believes only in that which is real and which he can bring to life, which he does with the aid of a mysterious, and as it ensues sinister entourage of actors and elaborate props.
But what is real, and what is not? As Urfe plunges into crisis after crisis blindly pursuing Lily – or Julie as she insists she is – he is forced to confront his own existence and being. As the narrative develops, the effect upon the reader is a series of surprises followed by shocks, and a crude comparison might be the nightmare sequences which befall the hapless victim of the American Werewolf in London, when he awakes from one nightmare and begins to relax, only to find that he’s in another, and to awake to find he’s in yet another!
The narrative is stiff with literary and artistic references – particularly Shakespeare, the cubists and surrealists but it’s Greek mythology which stands out, even many of the words Fowles uses are of Greek origin; ‘…a polysemantic world…a reality breaking through the thin world of science.’ ‘Alison could launch ten ships in me, but Julie could launch a thousand.’ There’re also pithy home truths such as ‘…an amusing person in Paris or London, can become insufferable on an Aegean island.’ Late in the narrative there are characters who appear to have down to earth attributes, such as the decaying landlady Kemp who ‘reads The Daily Worker’ for the ‘truth’, and certain other papers for the ******* lies,’ and whose ‘mouth without a cigarette is like a yacht without a mast; one presumed disaster.’ There’s also the winko-dinko British army type Mitford, whose potential sexual exploits we hear; ‘we didn’t quite get around to unarmed combat old chap, but I reckoned she was up for it.’ But it would appear that they too are actors of a certain kind. The real clue to this novel is in the original title which Fowles later changed. It was to be called The Godgame.