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The Magus by John Fowles

Updated on December 13, 2008

Book Review of The Magus by John Fowles


When I was living in Northern Greece, I read a book.  It, like a select few before them, left an indelible impression upon me.  That is to say, I’ve never gone a full month since then without thinking about this book and what it had to say about life, death, and mystery.  The Magus, by John Fowles, is as memorable as it is confusing -even confused, at times. 


The book centers around a young Englishman, Nicholas Urfe, who after a relationship with a young woman, decides life in Britain to be no longer for him.  He needs more, and in his surroundings, life is not what it should be.  So, he takes a job abroad, in Greece.  Like myself at the time, Nicholas teaches English as a Second Language, on a small island called Phraxos.  He works for the Lord Byron School, and finds the classes there as tedious as his life back in fair Albion.


So like most young people, he begins to explore the island, only to find that it is full of pine trees, his imagination, and a rich recluse named Maurice Conchis.  He strikes up a friendship, if that is what this relationship can be called.  Nicholas sees in Conchis an older guide, a man of mystery, an enigma wrapped in human flesh, and a devil.  Soon strange occurrences begin to take afoot. 


At first the strange occurrences seem a bit contrived; in fact, the young protagonist is sure they are staged for his sake, until plot turns become story twists into the rabbit hole of surreality.  Intrigue slowly becomes erotic, and then panic. 


This novel, by the same man who wrote the more famous “The French Lieutenant’s Woman,” is a bit long, and sometimes over-stated, crafted beyond necessary levels, and yet witty, colorful, dark, and trenchant, like a knife into the buttery heart of a pastry chef.  Rich in vocabulary as well as multiple layers dealing in psychological nuance and intrigue, it would have been loved by the likes of Nabokov, and anyone seeking a mystery unlike the norm within literature.


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