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A Maggot

3.58  ·  Rating details ·  2,913 ratings  ·  155 reviews
"A Maggot" is not a historical novel in the normal sense. It begins as a quirk or obsession (a 'maggot' in the archaic sense of the word) which finds its setting in the second wave of Protestant Dissent in England. It takes shape as a mystery - a compelling investigation of unaccountable motives and deeds - which leads through beguiling pathos to a startling vision at its ...more
Paperback, 460 pages
Published 1996 by Vintage Classics (first published 1985)
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Average rating 3.58  · 
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mark monday
i tried reading this when i was 15, i think around the time it first came out. perhaps i was too ambitious, because the novel was too much for me, and i gave up. i suppose i just didn't get it. but i can be competitive - even with books, even with myself. so i promised young mark monday that the battle wasn't over, that i'd return to re-engage 25 years later, when i had become an old, wise man...and i would eventually conquer this one.

well, mark, it is now 25 years later.


...and so i p
Mar 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, 20-ce, uk
Dazzling. Stunning. The best I've read of him.
On second reading, the novel holds up remarkably well. It seems at first a study in the perpetuation of literary suspense. The book jumps between third-person narration; a kind of mock-legal deposition which permits multiple narrative voices; essayistic asides, and epistolary elements. The third-person voice often refers to the gap between events at the time of the story--the 1730s--and our present day. For example: "Closer,...groups of children nois
_A Maggot_ is an interesting novel. It can be approached as an historical mystery, a meta-fictional experiment of mixed narrative form and genre, and a meditation on the injustices inherent in the 18th century social, political and religious mindset. The story proper details a mysterious journey undertaken by five individuals across the English landscape whose destination and purpose is unknown. In addition to this each of the individuals is not what they appear, and may not even be what they th ...more
Oct 15, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Apparently, A Maggot was the result of two dicisive factors. The one was the clear, yet uninvited image that once popped into Fowles' mind, of a group of people travelling on horseback in the middle of nowhere, as he informs us in the prologue. The other one was his admiration for Ann Lee, the founder of a strict yet especially alternative religious group, the Shakers. Although an atheist, Fowles had enough clarity to discern the wisdom behind their religious practices and acknowledge the necess ...more
The Maggot is a hypnotic novel, which as you sink into it, becomes more and more sibylline. But whatever, there are some books that we like not to understand, saying that there must be something in there more significant than yourself, like the repressed unconscious.
Nicholas d'Urfé, a young Oxford graduate, a womanizer, has a little existential crisis and embarks on a teaching position on the Greek island of Paxos. There, he meets a certain Conchis, a mixture between a somewhat barred Aristotle
Mar 19, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wrote this review a few years ago. I just moved to a new apartment, and while I rearranged my books in the perfect order, I came across my copy of A Maggot and remembered this, so I shall copy and paste:


My previous experience reading the work of John Fowles is sporadic but rather steady: while taking a “Literature of the Occult” class in college, The Magus was required reading and sometime last winter I made it through The Collector (recommended to me by Maxim magazine, of
Oct 04, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 06, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone

The make-believe history is a well-known trick of the postmodernist literature. Here we have a celebrated criminal in Margaret Atwood’s “Alias Grace”, a famous gangster in Mircea Mihaes’ “Woman in Red”, a brought to life portrait in Tracy Chevalier’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring”, and in all these novels and others reality and fiction are blended beyond recognition, to create literature’s second reality. A sort of non-fiction novels, to borrow Truman Capote’s very deceptive term.

However, whether t
Mar 04, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Sera by: Bookish
I found this book to be very strange. At the end of the book, there is an author's note, wherein Fowles describes what he was trying to accomplish when writing the novel. Instead of the note providing an illuminating experience, I found myself scratching my head even more, because I didn't really buy into Fowles attempt to get to B from A.

I found the first half of the book to be pretty interesting, but the second half - not so much. The book is a murder mystery and what happened in relation to t
This was a great story until a certain incident turned this into a science fiction story. I lost interest towards the end.
A shaggy dog story. John Fowles' prologue tells us the book began with an image of travellers on horseback. For years, though finding this image striking, he was prevented from doing anything with it because he didn't know who the travellers were or where they were going. Then he worked out a way of writing a book anyway without knowing this.

It's eighteenth-century England and the travellers are journeying through the countryside for some hidden purpose. Then this purpose is accomplished. We st
Opening: A maggot is the larval stage of a winged creature; as is the written text, at least in the writer's hope.

In here is a character called Dorcas and for those of us who have watched and/or read Lark Rise to Candleford the phrase "what would Dorcas Lane do?" Is enough to send one to hide behind the curtains of a kidney shaped dressing table to start pulling out tresses by the mit full.

The 3 star is a hattip to the authorial skill, however the caveat is that I did not care for this tale - it
May 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A Maggot: Another masterpiece from the intimidating mind of John Fowles. In this twisting mystery set in the early 18th century, Fowles is up to his old tricks with his magnificent cerebral teasing. A small group of travellers are on a very mysterious journey that will dance with life, death and madness - and where nothing is what it seems. It feels a playful old yarn until Fowles pulls the rug from under you, and we become deeply engaged with what, in modern times, would be termed a police inve ...more
Sep 05, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Very strange and contrived. Unsatisfying ending.
Once again Fowles has written a superb story that combines so many different aspects and genres I don't really know where to begin. Fowles starts with an image of 5 riders, unnamed and mysterious, then one turns up dead and another vanishes. So begins the investigation into those May events, told through Q & A sessions with witnesses, letters from the investigator to the judge and newspaper articles following the investigation. Don't expect to have your questions answered though as Fowles leaves ...more
This is my 3rd John Fowles book, and I never fail to find him interesting. He seems to like to take well-trodden genres (Victorian romance in The French Lieutenant's Woman, historical who-done-it here), lull you into a sense of familiar normalcy, before blasting you with a cold bucket of meta-fictiony post-modernism. This time I was ready for it, and for the most part enjoyed the ride. I suspected that this book wasn't at all what it was pretending to be, and tried to read between the lines. Her ...more
Dec 20, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A magistrate's inquest, in the form of a discourse and dialogue, into a possible murder and a suicide, is the setting for an imaginative novel about the mother of Ann Lee, the founder of the Shaker sect. Written in archaic 18th c. English, Fowles proves he has a fine ear and feeling for the language; the story maintains suspense and drama throughout, as well as giving the spirit of Christian dissent in the very rigid and harsh English society. His last novel, and possibly the testament of his be ...more
This is a really tough book for me to review, because I am not quite sure that I got it. Or if the point of the book was that you were not supposed to get it. It starts out straight forward enough and enjoyably as a historical mystery novel. We know that the characters are not as they appear, and that there will be truths unveiled as we go along. We know there is a murder, and a disappearance, but then -what? This book sucks me in without ever satisfying my curiosity, and then goes off into some ...more
Mark Joyce
A frustrating and ultimately annoying book. I found it gripping until about four fifths of the way in (hence the slightly grudgingly awarded three stars), at which point it disappeared up its own post-modernist arse and morphed into a tedious dialectic on the themes of selfhood, gender and some bollocks about the holy trinity. Without wishing to give anything away it seems the full appreciation of A Maggot rests on having at least a passing affinity with the theology and practices of the Shakers ...more
Jul 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I think this has to be one of my favorite books. What this book spoke to me was far beyond a sci-fi story: to me it dealt with topics like equality between genders and races (the feeling you get while reading the book is just how unfair people were treated according to gender and wealth and just how bedazzeled the lawyer is when the woman describes her journey in the utopian world/heaven? where everyone is equal.). I was very much amused at how people disregarded the book as a mediocre attempt a ...more
Nick Davies
Dec 26, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
This moved from starting off a little difficult to get on board with, but encouraging to do so, through some very intriguing and unusually compelling events, but ended up a bit confusing and disappointing before disappearing up its own arse in the end. I wasn’t expecting anything other than a complex literary novel from Fowles, with plenty fable and history thrown in, I’ve read and enjoyed others by the same author. This just got on my nerves three quarters of the way through - I was expecting a ...more
Feb 24, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Have been thinking about reading this for a while, but it was always too far down the list and was rather put off by The Magus, the only other work by Fowles I've read. Was going to have mixed feelings, but the conclusion pulled themes together well: indictment of established religion, social injustice. the inadequacies of language and suchlike. Even in The Magus, as here, Fowles is a brilliant and engaging expository writer. The story, well, perhaps eccentric, but much more tolerable than The M ...more
Kevin Tindell
I've struggled to complete this book on several occasions over the years but on the basis that I love other John Fowles titles I was determined to finish this time. I have to say it was a bit of a struggle but I ploughed on regardless. An interesting 'who done it' set in the 18th century but the language confounds and it was just too much effort. I will love The Magus forever but this just doesn't compare.
Simon Mcleish
Feb 17, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
Originally published on my blog here in July 2004.

In The French Lieutenant's Woman, Fowles wrote a knowing twentieth century version of a nineteenth century novel. A Maggot is more conventionally a historical novel, set in 1736 but despite fitting better into the genre, it shares much of the ironic self awareness of Fowles' best known work.

The novel starts with something very small - a group of travellers riding across Exmoor, who stop overnight at a small village before heading on again. But a
Damian Moloney
Aug 13, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting but challenging.
Kevin Tole
May 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics, history, britlit
The more I re-read of Fowles, the more I am impressed by the skills of a consummate storyteller completely at one with his craft. This was Fowles’ last novel published in 1985. It is allegedly harder to get hold of than his other books for some reason.

The Prologue from Fowles gives us two bits of key information. A Maggot can be the larval stage of a winged creature or, a little more anachronistically, a whim or a quirk which enters the thoughts and cannot be shifted. The book was written in res
Sep 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020
I'm a bit of a fan of Fowles because of the creepy perfection of his first novel, The Collector, and the madness of The Magus, a book spent a couple of years pushing on people at any opportunity.

I wasn't quite so taken with A Maggot the first time I read it, a dozen or so years ago. But as I've aged, I think I've come to appreciate it a lot more, as this reread was supremely enjoyable. I guess the fact that the author has taken a kitchen-sink approach to the work – it's variously a mystery, his
Aug 19, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
At first I thought the maggot was something figurative, then a woman's testimony told me it was something real. The whole time I read this book, I was attempting to discover what it was really about, but all I concluded is that it's a good bed time book; which means I fell asleep shortly after nearly every time I tried reading it. I did not want to leave it unfinished because I loved the first book I read by Fowles, The French Lieutenant's Woman, so I kept truckin'. It is not a good book, althou ...more
Octavio Solis
Sep 11, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. I'll amend my review at a more convenient time, but this work dug its maggot deeply into me. Fine and infuriating novel. ...more
Garry Nixon
Aug 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The publication of this novel - by the author of The Magus, - was quite a big event. Beautiful prose, character development, atmosphere, but the denouement, that was just plain daft.
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John Robert Fowles was born in Leigh-on-Sea, a small town in Essex. He recalled the English suburban culture of the 1930s as oppressively conformist and his family life as intensely conventional. Of his childhood, Fowles said "I have tried to escape ever since."

Fowles attended Bedford School, a large boarding school designed to prepare boys for university, from ages 13 to 18. After briefly attendi

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