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The Magus by John Fowles

The Magus (original 1965; edition 1973)

by John Fowles

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1,1152411,094 (3.86)2 / 269
Title:The Magus
Authors:John Fowles
Info:Dell Printing (1973), Edition: 2, Paperback
Collections:Your library

Work details

The Magus by John Fowles (1965)

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English (21)  Danish (1)  Dutch (1)  French (1)  All languages (24)
Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
The Magus was the first book John Fowles started writing but not the first he published. It is the story of Nicholas Urfe, a middle-class Englishman, single, self absorbed playboy set in post war period. Nicholas decides to go to Greece to take a teaching position in an all boys school where he becomes in an ordeal that is a nightmare and where the nature of reality is questioned. There are many questions raised and reader be warned, left unanswered. The themes touch on freedom, power, knowledge and love. The novel is filled with tension that keeps you reading. A good knowledge of Greek mythology and Shakespeare’s Tempest and Othello and Jungian psychology will go a long way to adding to the enjoyment of this book. ( )
  Kristelh | Nov 17, 2018 |
I read The Magus years ago. It is still one of the best books I have read. ( )
  Foghorn-Leghorn | Jun 5, 2016 |
Ah, the difficulty of reviewing God. God the book, God the wicked old millionaire, God the author, God the reader. All the gods looking down on poor old Nicholas Urfe, holy fool and everyman, just intelligent enough to sense the game, not intelligent enough to know what to do about it. Like the rest of us. Because he wants in. He wants to know the purpose, the answer. He wants to be a player. Oh God, don't we all. And everybody, even Nicholas himself, knows that he is being played and, worse still, that there is no game and no God, though it seems crass, even vulgar to say so.

Nicholas Urfe goes to Greece to teach at a remote, secluded island. He leaves behind an unsatisfactory life and love affair, and brings with him all his faults and failings. On the island he encounters a rich old man, and over weekends at the old man's house hears his life story. Right from the start, games are being played. Visions appear, unseen guests move about, suggestions of ghosts and madness and theatrical tableaux, and all the time lie after lie after lie. Nicholas accepts the challenge, which at its heart and stripped of deception is to simply be a part of the old man's games, to be a fox that knows it's being hunted. Naturally, he does not know what he is in for, but at each stage, half deceived, half aware of the deception, he plunges deeper into the labyrinthine layers of the game, until there is no turning back and no guessing the harm and humiliation awaiting him.

No reader can possibly find the broad elements of this unfamiliar. It has utterly permeated our culture, the idea of the manipulative game played on an unsuspecting person who must succumb to the game's hidden but inevitable outcome, or who must overcome the traps and deceptions and defeat the minotaur at the heart of the maze. It pops up in books, films, television. The cheap attraction of the authorial stand-in able to make things happen in a certain order and a certain way with contrived complexity and conceptual craziness; the cathartic choice of the victim falling at the final trap or breaking the walls and gaming the gamers. And yet none of them are quite like The Magus.

The lessons of the game in The Magus are brutal and unpleasant. The arrogance with which they're dispensed are horrifying. Nicholas is chosen as likely to be at least semi-complicit in the proceedings, and as this is an elaborate con and the gifted con-man will exploit the victim's weaknesses to his profit, sympathy for con victims tends to be limited. If it weren't for their own greed and foolishness they wouldn't have been caught out, we say, sitting in judgment. The repulsive heart of any con is the co-man's apportioning of blame with the victim, and so it is also the repulsive heart of this superb novel.

This book made me depressed and angry as Nicholas inveigled himself into the lies and illusions, setting himself up not just for betrayal, but for the flaying of his own personality for the entertainment of all. And the lesson is good. The lesson is right. Illusions, freedom and the simple necessity of not hurting other people. Be skeptical about things, but not cynical. Be open to the signs and portents and experiences of life without being infantile. Know the measure of your freedom and use it. But even so.

Nicholas' heroism is that he resists as many lies as he falls for, and he sees through the game as it happens. His tragedy is that he's supposed to, and then he's supposed to be grateful for it. At the end he is poised with the girl from the affair previous to his trip to Greece, both dripping from mutual wounds, and one is, perhaps, meant to root for them to somehow bridge the canyon between them. Why, I wonder, are they meant to be together? They won't have a relationship, they'll have an ongoing trauma. The suspense of the ambiguous ending, to me at any rate, isn't whether they will get together, but whether they'll find the strength to walk away. Find Jojo, Nicholas, and get your shit together.

Like the rest of us.

( )
1 vote Nigel_Quinlan | Oct 21, 2015 |
A very interesting book. Enormously slow on the one hand: hardly moving (physically) and featuring the same characters over and over again, appearantky doing (nearly) the same things over and over again.
But that took a turn at the end of part 2. A very unexpected turn, I must say. Made me wonder, what if...

Over all I liked the book, despite it was one that had me chew quite a bit. I'm glad I kept reading. ( )
  BoekenTrol71 | Feb 1, 2014 |
Well, I finally slogged through this entire book. It is long and "dense." I found it interesting enough to keep me reading, wanting to find out how the "experiment" ended, but now that I've finished it I don't find it to have been enlightening or particularly entertaining. The author builds a complex mystery, with the narrator never knowing what is real and what is make-believe, with one layer of mystery upon another. I had seen this title on a list somewhere of books with the least satisfying endings, and I have to agree that the ending left much to be desired, although it is hard to know what could have made it better. Conchis's motives are never very clear and I believe he leaves damaged "subjects" in his wake with all his experiments.

The sections in which Conchis is sharing his history, little vignettes of wars and encounters with eccentric folk, are the most interesting to me. Throughout the book, I marked passages or sentences that stood out as being true and well-written, but the overall book didn't seem to give me much insight. Of course, I'm not naturally given to existentialist angst (at least not for long periods), so I found the characters a bit pretentious - the money involved in Conchis's elaborate "experiment," the freedom Urfe has to wallow in self-pity and become wrapped up in the mystery - these are things that are foreign to me and belong to the wealthy and the young respectively. I found myself saying to Urfe that he should just get away from the madness, but like him I wanted to see where it led.

A few quotes that struck me:

"The madness of it, Nicholas. Standing in holes in the ground, thousands of men, English, Scots, Indians, French, Germans, one March morning - and what for? If there is a hell, then it is that. Not flames, not pitchforks. But a place without the possibility of reason, like Neuve Chapelle that day."

"...[S]ome experiences so possess you that the one thing you cannot tolerate is the thought of their not being in some way for ever present. Seidevarre is a place I do not want to touch. So I am not interested in what it is now. Or what they are now. If they still are."

"But then I saw that the attempt to scientize reality, to name it and classify it and vivisect it out of existence, was like trying to remove all the air from the atmosphere. In the creating of the vacuum it was the experimenter who died, because he was inside the vacuum."

"Thre were minutes of silence then and in it I thought about pain, about hurting people. It was the only truth that mattered, it was the only morality that mattered, the only sin, the only crime."
( )
  glade1 | Nov 4, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 21 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (15 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Fowles, Johnprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Mason, RobertCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Velde, Frédérique van derTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Un débauché de profession est rarement un homme pitoyable.
De Sade, Les Infortunes de la Vertu
To Astarte
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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.
Information from the Greek Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
Είμουν Άνθρωπος της πόλης και δεν είχα ρίζες
Η Ελλάδα είναι σαν καθρέπτης. Σε κάνει να υποφέρεις. Μετά μαθαίνεις.
Μάθε να χαμογελάς, μάθε να είσαι σκληρός, μάθε να είσαι ψυχρός, μάθε να επιζείς.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0316296198, Paperback)

The Magus is the story of Nicholas Urfe, a young Englishman who accepts a teaching assignment on a remote Greek island. There his friendship with a local millionaire evolves into a deadly game, one in which reality and fantasy are deliberately manipulated, and Nicholas must fight for his sanity and his very survival.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:05:14 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Nicholas Urfe accepts a teaching post on a remote Greek island, in order to escape an unsatisfactory love affair. He meets the Maurice Conchis, who introduces him to Lily, his ideal of the perfect woman. But is she flesh or fantasy? As the past bleeds into the present, he finds it increasingly difficult to distinguish reality from imagination. Under the spell of this magic isle and its presiding spirit, he struggles to understand the rules of the mysterious game into which he is drawn.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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