Friday, July 27, 2012


The Magus, John Fowles, Little Brown and Company, 1965, 582 pp

At last I have read this iconic book, actually thanks to a man my age who recently joined one of my reading groups. He has a basement full of books from the 1960s and 1970s and seems to want to revisit those years of his reading life. He talked the group into reading The Magus, which he considers to be great literature.

I was expecting something magical and mysterious. I should have known, from The French Lieutenant's Woman, but the title threw me off. It is in fact a psychological coming of age romance. Because it is set mainly in Greece, I felt I was in familiar territory, having read much fiction set there as well as Will Durant's The Life of Greece.

Fowles' writing impressed me and if he dragged out his story for quite a bit too long, the writing kept me going. His many twists and turns left me continuously wondering where he was going with his plot which did make the book mysterious.

Ultimately though, a young man who is full of himself, a wanker as the British say, has to grow up, stop treating women as mere sexual objects, and learn to be accountable for his actions. Along the way, he acts like a Philip K Dick character, refusing to be denied but freaked out by the machinations of the Magus. The Magus himself came across to me in the end as someone like the Wizard of Oz crossed with that guy in Iris Murdoch's Flight From the Enchanter.

So I was left underwhelmed but like Nicholas (the wanker), I certainly knew I had lived through Something. Then there is the famous indeterminate ending with that piece of fourth century Latin poetry (now easily found translated on the internet.) Even John Fowles changed the ending in his 1977 revision (though in my opinion, not for the better.) But all that is just the sort of thing reading geeks love, myself included.

I would have loved this book had I read it in 1965 when I was 18. If you are in your late teens or early twenties, read it now! It is much better than Twilight but the two books have similarities.

(The Magus, the revised version, is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore. For the original version check your local library or used book stores.)

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