Posts Tagged ‘The Magus’

The Magus, by John Fowles

January 5th, 2011    Posted in Fiction, Literary Fiction, Uncategorized

The Magus, by John Fowles, is the sort of book that draws a strong reaction: you either love it, or hate it. (A quick flip through its Amazon book reviews will show you exactly what I mean.) There’s really no middle ground when it comes to this book, where, in nearly 700 pages you’re taken on one hell of a journey, for better or for worse.

The Magus starts off with great promise and is undeniably well-written throughout. Fowles proves to his readers early on that he is well-versed in his craft and that his characters are worth our attention. The plot surrounds the life of Nicholas Urfe, an aspiring poet who takes a teaching position on the remote Greek island of Phraxos. With little to do on the island but ponder his own inadequacies and roam the barren landscape, Nicholas becomes involved with the eccentric and reclusive, Maurice Conchis. The nature of Nicholas and Conchis’ relationship is mysterious from the get go, which serves as excellent bait for readers. Other mysterious characters and relationships emerge early on as well, so it’s easy to keep the pages turning. Soon, Nicholas is taking part in a psychological game, where it becomes increasingly difficult to determine if he is playing the role of willing subject, or unknowing victim.

My feeling is that the largest payoff for readers in this book is Fowles’ examination of reality vs. perception. Often times what you think you know isn’t what you know at all. A number of supporting characters in the book switch from protagonist to antagonist and back again, all to the dismay of Nicholas, who does his best to desperately make sense of the maze. Truth be told, Fowles does this flawlessly. The problem for me, however, began after about page 400. I found myself wondering if a book such as this would have come out of the editing room today with the same page count. The book becomes an all too monotonous back and forth—predictably unpredictable. Although incredibly smart, the heavy literary references and psychology make you wonder if Fowles wrote this book to prove a point or to simply prove how educated he is; an irritating sentiment to have creep into your mind around page 550. When you know halfway through a scene that what you’ve learned as a reader will only turn itself upside down a chapter later, the foundation of what you’re reading becomes unreliable and, consequently, uninteresting. For me, this book landed too closely to the line of, “it was all a dream” to really enjoy, or believe in, what the characters were experiencing.

Reviewed By: Kim

Book: The Magus
Author: John Fowles
Read: December 2010
Source: Borrowed from a friend

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