Top positive review
Fowles Immortalizes the 1950s British Male
8 October 2017
This book is a big beast (669 pages) and you don't really want to embark on reading a book of this length if you're unsure of liking it.
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.