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Customer Review

on 30 June 2013
For my latest read of The Magus I went back to the original edition, which I hadn't read since picking the book up for the very first time at 22. I'm 57 now (same age as Conchis) and have been reading the revised edition ever since. The revision was never significantly different, but I did feel intrigued to be going back to the original after so many years. My old copy looks a bit rough round the edges, and probably so do I.

To be honest apart from in a few obvious places its difficult to tell the difference without reading one version immediately after the other. Once I had finished I did compare the endings again. The revision is still rightly enigmatic, but a little more conciliatory, with a key moment of sudden violence now - crucially - made out to be instinctive rather than cold-bloodedly deliberate. To me both work fine, but I would probably have to narrowly give the edge to the original ending: it's so youthfully uncompromising, just like the rest of the book.

Overall I still enjoyed it as much as I've ever done. It's a good ten years since I've read it and between that and going back to the original it had a quality of freshness and I found myself being buoyed along, as always, by the sheer scale and ambition of the storytelling. Only a young, inexperienced writer could be this bold, this unafraid, this ridiculously enquiring. At my age I don't expect the book to leave me as intellectually awestruck as it did when I was younger - and it didn't; but it made no difference to my enjoyment. It has the momentum of an intellectual mystery-thriller, and is so well written, with such wonderful descriptive passages and such clever parallels of dialogue between the naturalism of Nicholas and Alison compared to the self-conscious archness of Nicholas and the Bourani Set that you just revel in the sheer imagination and technical ability of the writer.

In such a philosophically ambitious book it must have been terribly hard for a young writer like Fowles to get inside the head of an older man like Conchis, and for a reader of my age the old wizard's many existentialist epigrams can now appear a trifle immature. But I prefer to cut Fowles a bit of slack on this: this book is not meant for people my age - its meant to be a profound read for the guy I was 35 years ago. The fact that I can still enjoy it while recognising this is a big bonus.

I must have read The Magus at least seven times by now and every time I finish it I always feel a sense of loss. It's not a perfect book and never was. Its often pompous and self-consciously intellectual, especially in its Classicist allusions: but how can you not be impressed by something this challenging, this ambitious, this provocative, this much fun? Personally I can't wait until my next read.
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