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The Magus by John Fowles
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The Magus (original 1966; edition 2001)

by John Fowles

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3,998741,814 (3.99)15
Member:silvia.badulescu
Title:The Magus
Authors:John Fowles
Info:Back Bay Books (2001), Edition: Revised, Paperback, 656 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
Tags:None

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The Magus: a revised version by John Fowles (1966)

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""The Magus" is a stunner, magnificent in ambition, supple and gorgeous in execution. It fits no neat category; it is at once a pyrotechnical extravaganza, a wild, hilarious charade, a dynamo of suspense and horror, a profoundly serious probing into the nature of moral consciousness, a dizzying, electrifying chase through the labyrinth of the soul, an allegorical romance, a sophisticated account of modern love, a ghost story that will send shivers racing down the spine. Lush, compulsive, richly inventive, eerie, provocative, impossibly theatrical--it is, in spite of itself, convincing." Thus wrote Eliot Fremont-Smith in his New York Times book review when this magnificent novel was first published back in 1966.

Let me tell you folks, this was one powerful literary experience - not only did I read the book but I also listened to the outstanding audio version, read by Nicholas Boulton. "Stupidity is lethal." One of the many musing from first person narrator Nicholas Urfe, a dashingly handsome twenty-five year old Oxford educated Englishman on the Greek island of Phraxos during a conversation with Conchis, a much older wealthy recluse, a man imaginative enough to remind him of Pablo Picasso and mysterious enough to remind me of Aleister Crowley.

This 660 pager begins with Nicholas Urfe recounting his background as an only child of middle class parents, stickler brigadier father, an officious military man down to his toes, a man forever trotting out words like discipline and tradition and responsibility to undergird his position on any topic, obedient housebound mother, public school education (what in the US is called private school), short stint in the army during peacetime and then reading English at Oxford. When one day at Oxford he receives word that both his mother and father died in an airplane crash, Nicholas feels a great relief since he no longer is obliged to carry around a huge sack of family baggage. Ah, family!

However, after Oxford, there’s one person who exerts a profound influence on Nicholas prior to his traveling to Phraxos to teach boys at the English-run Lord Byron School - Alison, a gorgeous, graceful Australian gal who moves in with Nicholas in his quaint apartment facing Russell Square. And that’s influence as in emotional intensity, as in red hot passionate lovemaking, bitter heated arguments and nearly everything in between, as if their relationship is a primer for the Dionysian frenzy and chaos Nicholas will eventually encounter in Greece.

When leaving England, Nicholas calls to mind how he needs more mystery in his life. Well, he certain gets his wish when he meets old Maurice Conchis and is initiated in unexpected ways into the atrocities of World War I and then the Nazis, the vitality of Greek theater and mask acting, isolation and religious fanaticism, hypnotism and mysticism, Freudian psychoanalysis and Jungian archetypes, ancient pagan religions inexplicably mingling with science and humanism.

Pulled into the vortex of the brutality of recent European history and pushed out to hidden spiritual realms with a dose of romantic love thrown in along the way, Nicholas is forced to confront his basic philosophic assumptions: How free are we? How much influence does our culture and historic epoch have on our values? Is there a universal foundation of morality beyond social convention? What is the connection between truth and beauty? Does love conquer all or is this merely a hackneyed cliché?

Toward the end of the novel, we as readers join Nicholas in asking: Ultimately, what was the real intent and purpose of Maurice Conchis and his so called godgame? Was all of what he as a young Englishman lived through at bottom a madman’s desire to manipulate and control, so much so it would it be more accurate to label Conchis’ inventive masque a congame rather than a godgame?

Turning the novel’s pages, we are right there with Nicholas as the suspense mounts – for every mystery that appears to be solved, two corollary mysteries pop up to take its place. Are we delving deeper into the mysteries of the universe or the mysteries of a detective novel, or both? No wonder Eliot Fremont-Smith called “The Magus” a stunner. I couldn’t imagine a more apt one-word description. I can also appreciate John Gardner’s judgement when he wrote, "Fowles is the only writer in English who has the power, range, knowledge, and wisdom of a Tolstoy or James."
( )
  Glenn_Russell | Nov 13, 2018 |
The first half was like a Hemingway novel in that it was extremely well written with high quality dialog and characters while at the same time being slow and lacking in interesting plot progression.

The second half makes the first half worth it. ( )
  cuothoju | Apr 6, 2018 |
The narrator is a cad, and no one in the book is at all chivalrous. That's fine, but the way the narrator expresses his caddishness - "growling" and "glowering" at adversaries, writing vindictive letters and burning them unsent - is a bit third-rate.

I was extremely disappointed that the magic introduced early on was soon debunked and it became a conventional evil-genius thriller.

The women generally act sexy and are uniformly seen through the lens of sex. This is obviously attributable to the narrator but it does get very tiring. The book has an obsession with gender.

The best bits are Conchis' "reminiscences". These four vignettes show the author working for his keep. They are the kernels of stories which he wasn't able to extend, and so had to weave an elaborate frame narrative around to make them viable. But they are by far the most immediate and assured sections of this long book.

The whole theme of lies vs truth is quickly exhausted. You can only play so many shell games before the punter walks away. The episodic plot doesn't help in this regard. So, what is tonight's entertainment, I'm fairly sure the protag says at least once, and I said it more than once.

Overall, a very artificial novel with enough gripping sections to make it worth while. ( )
1 vote yarb | Oct 23, 2017 |
FINAL REVIEW



""The Magus" is a stunner, magnificent in ambition, supple and gorgeous in execution. It fits no neat category; it is at once a pyrotechnical extravaganza, a wild, hilarious charade, a dynamo of suspense and horror, a profoundly serious probing into the nature of moral consciousness, a dizzying, electrifying chase through the labyrinth of the soul, an allegorical romance, a sophisticated account of modern love, a ghost story that will send shivers racing down the spine. Lush, compulsive, richly inventive, eerie, provocative, impossibly theatrical--it is, in spite of itself, convincing." Thus wrote Eliot Fremont-Smith in his New York Times book review when this magnificent novel was first published back in 1966.

Let me tell you folks, this was one powerful literary experience - not only did I read the book but I also listened to the outstanding audio version, read by Nicholas Boulton. "Stupidity is lethal." One of the many musing from first person narrator Nicholas Urfe, a dashingly handsome twenty-five year old Oxford educated Englishman on the Greek island of Phraxos during a conversation with Conchis, a much older wealthy recluse, a man imaginative enough to remind him of Pablo Picasso and mysterious enough to remind me of Aleister Crowley.

This 660 pager begins with Nicholas Urfe recounting his background as an only child of middle class parents, stickler brigadier father, an officious military man down to his toes, a man forever trotting out words like discipline and tradition and responsibility to undergird his position on any topic, obedient housebound mother, public school education (what in the US is called private school), short stint in the army during peacetime and then reading English at Oxford. When one day at Oxford he receives word that both his mother and father died in an airplane crash, Nicholas feels a great relief since he no longer is obliged to carry around a huge sack of family baggage. Ah, family!

However, after Oxford, there’s one person who exerts a profound influence on Nicholas prior to his traveling to Phraxos to teach boys at the English-run Lord Byron School - Alison, a gorgeous, graceful Australian gal who moves in with Nicholas in his quaint apartment facing Russell Square. And that’s influence as in emotional intensity, as in red hot passionate lovemaking, bitter heated arguments and nearly everything in between, as if their relationship is a primer for the Dionysian frenzy and chaos Nicholas will eventually encounter in Greece.

When leaving England, Nicholas calls to mind how he needs more mystery in his life. Well, he certain gets his wish when he meets old Maurice Conchis and is initiated in unexpected ways into the atrocities of World War I and then the Nazis, the vitality of Greek theater and mask acting, isolation and religious fanaticism, hypnotism and mysticism, Freudian psychoanalysis and Jungian archetypes, ancient pagan religions inexplicably mingling with science and humanism.

Pulled into the vortex of the brutality of recent European history and pushed out to hidden spiritual realms with a dose of romantic love thrown in along the way, Nicholas is forced to confront his basic philosophic assumptions: How free are we? How much influence does our culture and historic epoch have on our values? Is there a universal foundation of morality beyond social convention? What is the connection between truth and beauty? Does love conquer all or is this merely a hackneyed cliché?

Toward the end of the novel, we as readers join Nicholas in asking: Ultimately, what was the real intent and purpose of Maurice Conchis and his so called godgame? Was all of what he as a young Englishman lived through at bottom a madman’s desire to manipulate and control, so much so it would it be more accurate to label Conchis’ inventive masque a congame rather than a godgame?

Turning the novel’s pages, we are right there with Nicholas as the suspense mounts – for every mystery that appears to be solved, two corollary mysteries pop up to take its place. Are we delving deeper into the mysteries of the universe or the mysteries of a detective novel, or both? No wonder Eliot Fremont-Smith called “The Magus” a stunner. I couldn’t imagine a more apt one-word description. I can also appreciate John Gardner’s judgement when he wrote, "Fowles is the only writer in English who has the power, range, knowledge, and wisdom of a Tolstoy or James."
( )
1 vote GlennRussell | Feb 16, 2017 |
Make sure you read the 'revised version'. Urfe cannot bring himself to escape his ?tormentors? ?tutors? and I couldn't bring myself to escape this book. Brilliant writing. Baffling storyline. Don't expect a neat conclusion. ( )
1 vote NaggedMan | Feb 8, 2017 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
John Fowlesprimary authorall editionscalculated
Cartanega, SoledadForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Peterson, MartinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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First words
I was born in 1927, the only child of middle-class parents, both English, and themselves born in the grotesquely elongated shadow, which they never rose sufficiently above history to leave, of that monstrous dwarf Queen Victoria.
Quotations
I acquired expensive habits and affected manners.  I got a third class degree and a first class illusion: that I was a poet.
Men see objects, women see the relationship between objects. ... It is an extra dimension of feeling we men are without and one that makes war abhorrent to all real women – and absurd. ... War is a psychosis caused by an inablity to see relationships.
This is true of all collecting. It extinguishes the moral instinct. The object finally possesses the possessor.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Please do not combine the revised version of The Magus with the original version. There are some differences between these two versions of the book. This is the revised version.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0316290920, Hardcover)

A man trapped in a millionare's deadly game of political and sexual betrayal.

Filled with shocks and chilling surprises, The Magus is a masterwork of contemporary literature. In it, a young Englishman, Nicholas Urfe, accepts a teaching position on a Greek island where his friendship with the owner of the islands most magnificent estate leads him into a nightmare. As reality and fantasy are deliberately confused by staged deaths, erotic encounters, and terrifying violence, Urfe becomes a desperate man fighting for his sanity and his life. A work rich with symbols, conundrums and labrinthine twists of event, The Magus is as thought-provoking as it is entertaining, a work that ranks with the best novels of modern times.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:23 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Nicholas Urfe, a young Englishman who accepts a teaching position on a remote Greek island, befriends a local millionaire; but the friendship soon evolves into a deadly game and Nicholas finds that he must fight not only for his sanity but for his very survival.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 4 descriptions

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