John Fowles’ The Magus was a literary landmark of the 1960s. Nicholas Urfe goes to a Greek island to teach at a private school and becomes enmeshed in curious happenings at the home of a mysterious Greek recluse, Maurice Conchis. Are these events, involving attractive young English sisters, just psychological games, or an elaborate joke, or more? Reality shifts as the story unfolds. The Magus reflected the issues of the 1960s perfectly, but even almost half a century after its first publication, it continues to create tension and concern, remaining the page-turner that it was when it was first released.
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John Fowles’ now underappreciated novel is a mystical morality play on love, truth, maturity, reality and sexual and emotional betrayal. "The Magus" is set on a Greek island lush in the legends of Apollo, Artemis, Orpheus and Eurydice, and involves our protagonist, Nicholas Urfe, a mysterious island local and pretty young English ladies. While the year of the story is 1953 in the aftermath of WWII, in many ways it seems as timely as today.
If you read reviews, you won’t get much more of a description, other than below a Spoiler Alert heading. To explain it more would require pages and would, in many ways, be like explaining the recent novel “Gone Girl” or the movie “The Sixth Sense”: it would ruin the whole experience for you.
Like Gone Girl, I could NOT put it down. Truly in its own league, particularly considering it was published nearly 50 years ago.
One of the best novels that I really think I hate.
What is written here must remain hidden. So now that you've scrolled down, let the game begin.
Hurry, let's unpack this quick. I felt like I've already spent far too much time being frustrated by the many curves, mysteries, deceptions in this book. I loved 'The French Lieutenant's Woman' and really, really liked 'The Collector' and there were many parts and many scenes from 'the Magus' that I really, really liked and even loved. But reading 'the Magus' reminded me of those novels one reads, and are far better read, when one is a nubile Freshman in college or a precocious HS Senior. I'm thinking of most of Tom Robbins, Chuck Palahniuk, JD Salinger, Ayn Rand, and Camus (to a certain extent). These are books that indeed can be considered literary (except for Ayn Rand), and have some form of magic buried within them that attracts the 20 y/o literary set. These are books that become fetish items. Carried, dog-earred, and flashed between the group to communicate their fealty to a group, game or club.
But looking back, they just don't seem to have the same magic or mystery for me. I should have read 'the Magus' in HS. I should have tried it all on sometime before I turned 30. It was smart, but the magic was gone, burned off, disappeared. The lights have been turned on. The big questions (for me, at this time in my life) seemed answered or perhaps just not that damn important. So, death.
Again, I love Fowles' prose, but part of this book felt like wading through azure pudding in a chemical fog. There were pages and pages where I just felt tired, exhausted, with burning eyes wondering why I kept turning the pages. Part Marquis de Sade, part 'Eyes Wide Shut', part PoMo philosophical exploration of freedom and love. Again, this ranks up there (I mean top, top tier) with the best novels that I really think I hate.
I did find a tidbit that might help those who are contemplating finishing this. In trying to explain different approaches to 'the Magus' Fowles explained to a young girl:
"But two approaches - The Magus is trying to suggest to Nicholas that reality, human existence is infinitely baffling. One gets one explanation - the CHristian, the psychological, the scientific ... but always it gets burnt off like summer mist and a new landscape-explanation appears. He suggests that the one valid reality or principle for us lies in eleutheria - freedom. Accept that man has the possibility for his actions. To be free (which means rejecting all the gods and political creeds and the rest) leaves one no choice but to act according to reason: that is, humanely to all humans."