2013 Book #58: The Magus

2013 Book #58: The Magus

magusThe Magus wasn’t at all what I was expecting, and it’s a lesson in Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover (or its size). It’s a brick of a book, and the name made me think I’d be getting into something like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, which I loved. But no. It’s nothing like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, and by the end, I almost hated it.

It had a promising start: Nicholas Urfe, a young, directionless English womanizer gets a job teaching at a boys’ school on Phraxos, a Greek island. It’s beautiful, and John Fowles‘ descriptions are amazing. I was so into it. Anyway, almost as soon as he gets there, he hears about a mysterious man named Conchis, and he’s determined to meet him. Nicholas sneaks onto his estate, and there’s Conchis, waiting with lunch. He immediately starts playing mind games, and soon, Nicholas doesn’t know whether he’s coming or going. He meets and falls in love with a girl who is alternately called Lily and Julie, and the mind games continue. Meanwhile, Nicholas is trying to get out of a relationship with Alison, the girl he was dating when he got the job and moved to Greece. She fell in love with him, but he seems to be incapable of love and is more interested in getting girls into bed. (I thought that would be a minor, introductory part of the novel, but, no, it’s not. The Magus is full of surprises). As usual, Things Happen.

This book is long. Way too long, I think, though this isn’t the first time I’ve said it about a novel considered very good, which this one is. It just goes on and on. And on and on. At the beginning, I was intrigued. What in the world was Conchis doing to Nicholas? But by the time the story played out and everything was explained, I had lost interest. At some point, Nicholas describes my feelings exactly: It’s like a Lawrence novel suddenly turns into a Kafka novel. I don’t like either of those authors (okay, I liked them both very much a long time ago, but the more I read, the more I grow to hate them). I can’t think of a better way to describe it than effed-up. In some ways, it’s like The Island of Dr. Moureau, and in others, it’s like “The Most Dangerous Game.” It made me uncomfortable and frustrated, and I wanted out. Yesterday, I read the last 150 pages just to get it over with. It’s a world of which I don’t want to be a part.

I’m not saying that The Magus is a bad novel. I just didn’t like it. Like Salem’s Lot, it’s just not my kind of book. I would have quit reading it much earlier if I’d figured it out within the first fifty pages, but Fowles keeps you guessing, gives a hint, then makes you guess again. It was interesting and strangely traumatic at the same time. I couldn’t look away even though I really wanted to.

So. If you like books about mind games, you’ll probably like this one. I’m not a fan, and I’ll probably stay away from Fowles in the future. Now, to read something mundane and comfortable.

SEVEN HELLS, THERE’S A MOVIE. Which I will NOT be watching. I’ll go ahead and, just based on the book, put it in the pile with movies (all from that era!) that Should Not Be Seen and Cannot Be Unseen, like The Wicker Man and Salo.

In other news, Shakespeare is feeling much better after a round of antibiotics. Also: the Pill Gun is my new best friend.

I finally made jambalaya. It’s my Very Favorite Food, but it’s so high in carbs that I hadn’t made it since the beetus. Once I cooked and weighed it, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. A bowl is only about 55-60 carbs, which isn’t too bad.


Most exciting, though, is our new fireplace! I was surfing around Pinterest a few weeks ago and saw this 8-bit Zelda fireplace (IT’S DANGEROUS TO GO ALONE! TAKE THIS.) and squealed. Palmer approved of the idea and even got the paint chips and foam board. I spent about six hours punching out squares and pasting them on the board. The fireplace is now my favorite part of the house. It’ll look so nice once we get that room repainted – hopefully, in the near future.


Despite my efforts to slow down, I guess I’m still on a reading tear. I just started Snow Country, a short Japanese novel that I’ve been meaning to read. Thirty pages in, it’s a welcome relief after the horrors of The Magus.


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  • I loved The Magus when I first read it in college. For me the real interest is the narrative games, as we cease to see Nicholas as a conventional picaresque hero and start to see his awful narcissism and sexism “cured” by Conchis. It becomes a psychomachia. Anyway, It’s an over-long novel, as you point out, but don’t let it put you off some of his others. The short stories are particularly wonderful and of course, the French Lieutenant’s’ Woman was a radical piece of experimental meta-narrative in its day. . .

  • I think I would have liked it a lot more when I was younger. The older I get (and the farther away I get from academia), the more I approach books as recreation rather than thinking exercises. If I’d read The Magus when I was 20, I would have been enthralled. My favorite books were often the ones that made me feel uncomfortable. Now, while I haven’t yet resorted to crappy pop fiction, my tastes have changed. Part of the problem here, too, is that I didn’t like Nicholas, and even if it’s a good book, if I don’t like the protagonist, I generally won’t like the book. That’s why I disliked Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina. Years ago, not liking the protagonist might have made me more interested.

  • A good book by this guy is The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Wait. Did you read that already? I forget so many things.

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Indices, etc, coming soon!