Evan's Reviews > The Magus

The Magus by John Fowles
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Jan 25, 11

bookshelves: modern-library-top-100-list, epic, __in-my-collection, philosophy, 2010-reads, favorites, my-faves, fowles
Read from July 22 to August 04, 2010

Reading The Magus was like holding a mirror up to my life, not knowing who it is I'm looking at, not fully understanding where I am or where I've been, and even less certain of where I am going -- not certain of what lessons I've learned or am supposed to be learning, adrift and perplexed about issues of morality/immorality/amorality, not wholly certain if the things I seek and desire aren't already right here in front of me.

I think it's safe to say that The Magus was one of the most profoundly amazing reading experiences of my life.

And I say this in total agreement with all its naysaysers who say that the story is preposterous, not credible, frustrating, ever-changing, too self-satisfied in how it pulls and yanks the reader around and leads him/her into blind alleys, traps, promises never intending to be kept. Maurice Conchis, the enigmatic puppetmaster of the tale, is the alter ego of Fowles; leading the bewildered protagonist, Nicholas Urfe, in the same epochal, mind-fucking game that Fowles the author does with the reader. The mind-meld one has with Urfe, and just as surely, the disconnect one has with him, is a process one has throughout the book, mirroring one's own self examination and self-loathing.

I'm no intellectual literary critic, plus I'm a little lazy, so there won't be any pondering of the various philosophical, mythological, psychological, political, sociological questions raised in The Magus, of which there are innumerable examples. The question of what freedom is, and how we choose to use it, looms large over the book, as do notions of life as a kind of theater. References and parallels to ancient myth, drama and to Shakespeare are interwoven liberally. Perception and reality, the nature of time and memory, science vs. metaphysics and much more are tackled herein.

As I read it, I thought of the many other books and media products that influenced it, and in turn, it influenced. The Englishman abroad motifs reminded me a bit of Graham Greene. I detected similarities with other books, The Castle of Communion, The Most Dangerous Game, Zorba the Greek, Alice Through the Looking Glass, The Tempest, The Sporting Club, the Saragossa Manuscript, Lord of the Flies, Dream Story (and its movie version, Eyes Wide Shut), and TV shows such as The Prisoner, Lost, and even The Wild Wild West,and movies such as The Game.

The book is a fascinating, one-of-a-kind tour de force.

There will be no attempt at plot summary here. That is easily enough gotten at Wikipedia or in other reviews. Another aspect of the mirroring between protagonist and reader is the idea of willing submission, of suspension of disbelief. It's Urfe's own curiosity that draws him to the game and his own willingness to stay with it. The question of whether or not we are our own jailer comes to mind.

Oh, and the book is also intensely romantic. Filled with regret and longing and anger and despair. The Greek island setting is enigmatic and intoxicating.

If you're someone who wants a tidy ending, The Magus will not be for you. For all of us, the future is mute. The book understands this.
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Quotes Evan Liked

John Fowles
“Duty largely consists of pretending that the trivial is critical.”
John Fowles, The Magus


Reading Progress

07/22/2010 page 20
3.0% "Perhaps this will be my giant summer read. It will be my third Fowles. Supposedly this is his masterwork. Also, supposedly difficult. Let's see."
07/22/2010 page 35
5.0% "I know it's early but so far this is lovely."
07/22/2010 page 62
9.0% "The weirdness hasn't begun yet. So far it's a rather beautiful story."
07/23/2010 page 101
15.0% "Still liking this a lot."
07/23/2010 page 133
20.0% "So far, pretty damned great. It can only fall apart from here."
07/25/2010 page 275
42.0% "This has been an extraordinary novel so far...the right book at the right time for me. It's speaking to me, page after page, and I can't stop reading it."
07/25/2010 page 336
51.0% "Past halfway!"
08/02/2010 page 505
77.0% "Yes, I'm going to dunk this!"
08/02/2010 page 556
85.0% "100 pages to the end, and no matter how it ends this has been one of the most amazing reading experiences of my life."
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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

So close!


Evan Another rerun from last year, for the benefit of newer pals. (re-posted 1/25/10). This was the read that blew me away the most last year.


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