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The Magus (Vintage Classics)
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on 27 April 2017
One of the most interesting and insightful novels I have ever read. I read it when I was young and re-read it recently and it was an education. Stunning, stunning work of art. It takes the reader on a truly wonderful journey. I do not wish to heap superlatives on a brilliant work of fiction but I would recommend this to anyone who is interested in the human condition. It is hard to describe properly, it is part mystery, part psychology. Filled with wonderful characters and places. Just an amazing book and is one of my top ten novels of all time. Just read it!
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on 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.
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on 29 May 2011
This is a novel of astonishing inventiveness and pscyhological insight. It gives us episodes (maybe true, maybe false) from the life of the Magus figures; episodes in the present in which the Magus and a cast of figures in his entourage interact with the narrator; and a prelude and postlude (if that is a word!) to the action mainly set on a Greek island, in the London of 1953, about the time Fowles started writing the novel (published 1966, revised 1976) in which the narrator, fresh out of Oxford and a year's teaching experience, meets an Australian backpacker about to become an air hostess (it would seem quite a glamorous job in 1953 London).

Each element of the plot is realised brilliantly - each story from Conchis' past sheds light on the human condition and is highly memorable (whatever its truth value); each day in Greece brings a fresh story for the narrator to digest (whatever its truth value); each episode brings the narrator (flawed in much the same way as is Pip in Great Expectations, a book Fowles says must have influenced him in writing this and to which in his revision he hadds a cross-reference) closer to self-knowledge. And it has great narrative drive.

It is a unique tour de force; and I would very highly recommend it others.
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on 20 July 2016
Should have read this when I was much younger, of course, but still found it a fascinating and entertaining read. Was prompted to buy after hearing Radio adaptation with Charles Dance in the titular role. On paper, from my middle-aged perspective, the protagonist comes across as a whiny near-adolescent with hypocritical attitudes, but the book itself seems to anticipate some of the changing values of the decade to come. Worth a read, and though it's long it's not heavy-going.
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on 16 May 2014
I read this whilst studying for a degree in Literature and was bowled away by it. It existed as a jewel on the horizon behind me as I sailed into my future and older, I wanted to pick it up and experience it again. It didn't work. The ideas were still fascinating, blurring the lines between reality and fantasy, the commonplace and the horrific. Reading it again was like being at a party where everyone is on a different drug from you, connections break. Three starts because if you read it while you are young - or whilst your brain is young, it can alter the way you look at the world for the rest of your life - and surely that is what all great literature should do. The fault is my own. Don't revisit your past, there's nothing there.
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on 28 January 2016
I remember reading this book years and years ago and being absolutely addicted to it so I thought I would get it again and re read.
I don't know if it is to do with me being older and more mature, or the book being a bit dated, but I just got so frustrated with it and realised that actually, I didn't care what happened to the lead character. I found it self indulgent and was, sadly, so indifferent I gave up after when I was about a third in.
The Magus (Vintage Classics)
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on 8 July 2011
Although I have read other Fowles', this is my first encounter with The Magus. It is a remarkable, very unusual book, which at times I found disturbing. The constant blurring of the edges of reality, the mixing of fact with fiction, was difficult to handle.
But the writing is beautiful and the slow construction, with gently increasing pressure, of Nicholas' labyrinthine torments is admirable: clearly, this is a book to re-read.
There are parts that irritate: the constant classical and Shakespearean references; the incomprehensible parallels with Miss Haversham; above all, the ambiguous ending (will she, won't she?) and the final untranslated longish Latin quotation.
If you read books for entertainment and amusement, The Magus is not for you. If, however, you like books which, in turn, disturb, uplift, annoy, stimulate and irritate- particularly stimulate- then this is a must.
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on 8 January 2015
This book was recommended to me by a work colleague and having never read Fowles before, I was curious. The story is well summarized in other reviews i.e., a young graduate seeking a new start on a Greek island leaving behind a relationship that doesn't give him what he needs...etc. I have to confess I found it hard to sympathize with the protagonist (Nicholas Ufre) particularly when he decides not to include Alison in his life when he travels to Greece. But Fowles isn't interested in making you identify with any character in this book, it's part of the mystery of the story, the uncertain actions of the mysterious Mr. Conchis and his intriguing behaviour; this keeps you engaged trying to discover the secret of the Magus right up til the last page and that's some achievement.

I'd recommend this book because, even if you tire of the seemingly endless mystery of the plot or the countless classical references, it is really well written with some beautiful portraits of human characters and their flaws. The character of Jojo at the end of the story was memorable for me. The only criticism I would have is that the book is 100 pages longer than it needs to be, but I'm glad I read this book and will be reading another Fowles novel soon.
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on 26 November 2012
I read this years ago, and lost my copy in various house moves so bought a new one to read again. 20 years of changes to me and the social setting then... I found this just as atmospheric, but much more like a play where I had to work to suspend my disbelief & just 'go' with some of it. It is of course a period piece and should be read as such. I found the psychological manipulations weaker and more dated than when I read it years ago, and the characters more like actors - appropriate maybe? It is still a good read, but you do need to read big chunks of it in one go to get the full effect IMHO, I don't think 20min bursts of reading will do the atmosphere justice & you would miss out. Makes me want to book a Greek holiday!
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on 16 July 2015
I first read this novel forty years ago, when I was an impressionable young student, when I thought it utterly brilliant.. Needless to say, now that I am older and wiser, the work did not strike me as quite so wonderful. The writing is still beautiful but also self-indulgent and the overall concept is a little engineered. However, it is still a classic and something I would recommend to anyone in their late teens and early twenties as something which will open up new horizons and push boundaries....
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