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The Magus (1965)

by John Fowles

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
1,2692711,353 (3.89)2 / 279
Read John Fowles's feisty, clever, cunning and compelling novel with an unusual twist. On a remote Greek island, Nicholas Urfe finds himself embroiled in the deceptions of a master trickster. As reality and illusion intertwine, Urfe is caught up in the darkest of psychological games. John Fowles expertly unfolds a tale that is lush with over-powering imagery in a spellbinding exploration of human complexities. By turns disturbing, thrilling and seductive, The Magus is a feast for the mind and the senses.… (more)
  1. 42
    The Secret History by Donna Tartt (WoodsieGirl)
  2. 20
    A Maggot by John Fowles (Booksloth)
  3. 10
    The Moviegoer by Walker Percy (WSB7)
    WSB7: Check out the eerily similar endings.
  4. 10
    Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis De Bernières (Booksloth, edwinbcn)
  5. 00
    Lemprière's Dictionary by Lawrence Norfolk (KayCliff)
  6. 00
    The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton (CGlanovsky)
    CGlanovsky: Secret societies whose aims you are made to reassess.
  7. 00
    The Athenian murders by José Carlos Somoza (ligature)
  8. 00
    The Journey to the East by Hermann Hesse (CGlanovsky)
    CGlanovsky: Secret societies whose aims you are made to reassess.
  9. 00
    The Amnesiac by Sam Taylor (jayne_charles)
    jayne_charles: I never thought I would read anything quite like The Magus, but The Amnesiac came close
  10. 00
    Foe by J. M. Coetzee (Hibou8)
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    Icelander by Dustin Long (Hibou8)
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    The Way through Doors by Jesse Ball (Hibou8)
  13. 11
    The Tempest by William Shakespeare (WSB7)
    WSB7: Similar power playing, but with a very different point to make in the end. Better? Truer? More satisfying? Good to contemplate. Wish I'd thought of it while reading.
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» See also 279 mentions

English (24)  Danish (1)  French (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (27)
Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
The Magus is an exhausting book to read, not really because of the length since it reads pretty quickly, but because it takes you for a fucking ride. It’s a psychological mindfuck and to me its greatest trick was taking me on a journey where I hated Nicholas so much that I would have been fine with him being dumped in a well to...not really liking him because he’s still a dick who shouldn’t have nice things but I emphasized with him. The book let us see all of his ugliness and self-pity without doing much to grow him out of it but in the end, I didn’t care as much. He still sucks but, I don’t know, there’s something compelling about seeing someone taken down to their studs. It makes you want better for him. He’s kinda a proto-incel and definitely a racist even if he doesn’t think he is but he’s just some guy and he didn’t really deserve the insane shit that helped make him a real person to me. To me that felt like part of the point. Nicholas wasn’t likable with his mask and without it he wasn’t a better person but he was a more honest one and that felt like a good start. But also, Alison? Love yourself more than that. ( )
  jobinsonlis | May 11, 2021 |
the book meets at least one of my criteria for a novel. It seems long enough. Having now the experience,, to place this best-seller in context I find that as it seems to discuss the difference between reality, and how people will experience reality, it is an inferior work to the "Alexandria Quartet" of Lawrence Durrell. It could be seen, and dismissed as a pallid American rival to that intriguing novel. It is well enough written for me to have finished it, and then move to see what Durrell had to offer. The film seemed confused, and its director or scenarist...a little beyond their depth. A good performance by Anthony Quinn, well seconded by Michael Caine.
  DinadansFriend | Jul 11, 2020 |
The Magus took John Fowles more than two decades to complete. It was the first viable novel he began writing, but was published for the first time in 1966, and then in a revised version in 1977. The latter edition, which is by far the easiest to find these days, was the one I read.

As Fowles explains in the preface, some of the details of the story are taken from his own life: for instance, like his protagonist, Nicholas Urfe, Fowles spent some time teaching at a school on a remote Greek island. From such material, Fowles weaves a fantastic story that owes a heavy debt to Shakespeare's final play, The Tempest. The Prospero character, in this instance, is Maurice Conchis, an elderly multi-millionaire who own a house on a section of the island known as Bourani. Nicholas finds himself drawn to Conchis's character, and in the hours they spend together he learns more and more about his host's past, which includes an uncertain relationship with the Nazis. Further characters are introduced, most notably a pair of beautiful twin Englishwomen and a black man, Joe.

The story proceeds as a series of disjointed acts in which Nicholas, blessed (or cursed) with a critical mind, undermines and sidesteps the stories of the people he encounters. He increasingly suspects that he is taking part in some kind of masque or drama in which the others are all actors. It is through this device that Fowles causes the story to twist and turn, with new characters abruptly appearing (the German soldiers, for instance) or being dramatically recast (Joe, the twin girls) as Nicholas grapples with the line between fiction and reality. Nicholas's story is framed, in turn, by his affair with an Australian girl, Alison Kelly, whose directness and solidity are repeatedly placed in juxtaposition with the mind-games of the island drama.

The story itself hums along nicely enough, but there are points in the middle of the book, especially when Nicholas is drawn into permutation after permutation of different but similar mind games, that it starts to drag a little. Let me be clear: I think Fowles is the greatest English writer of his generation. His genius lies in his incisiveness, both in terms of his storytelling ability and his utter lack of moral prudery. Nonetheless, I found fault with The Magus mostly for the character of Nicholas, whose part in the game I thought became too predictable; truly turning the tables on Conchis and his actors would have been an interesting move that Fowles does not exploit. I also felt as though the flaws Nicholas judges so harshly in his character at the end of the book were merely the markings of inexperience rather than anything fundamentally bad about him. Toward the end, the novel comes dangerously close at certain moments at being morally judgmental in this respect.

Still, despite these minor flaws, The Magus is an astounding piece of fiction. Fowles clearly wrote it in a spirit of ambition that would have defeated many a lesser writer. The Magus is thus an important novel that, while it does not measure up to the true greatness of, say, The French Lieutenant's Woman, is still an enjoyable and worthwhile book to read. ( )
  vernaye | May 23, 2020 |
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. ( )
1 vote | Foghorn-Leghorn | Jun 5, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (39 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Fowles, Johnprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Boulton, NicholasNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mason, RobertCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Velde, Frédérique van derTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Un débauché de profession est rarement un homme pitoyable.
De Sade, Les Infortunes de la Vertu
Dedication
To Astarte
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
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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Read John Fowles's feisty, clever, cunning and compelling novel with an unusual twist. On a remote Greek island, Nicholas Urfe finds himself embroiled in the deceptions of a master trickster. As reality and illusion intertwine, Urfe is caught up in the darkest of psychological games. John Fowles expertly unfolds a tale that is lush with over-powering imagery in a spellbinding exploration of human complexities. By turns disturbing, thrilling and seductive, The Magus is a feast for the mind and the senses.

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