The Magus – John Fowles

Dell, 1965
Technically this is Fowles’ first novel, and the first that I have read (the first the public knew was The Collector). This was recommended to me by G_____
and I soon moved from the teeny-weeny print of the paperback to our library’s hardback version, the better for reading a 600-page tome while in bed. The Magus tells the story of a young Englishman who travels to a small Greek island called Phraxos to teach English. Instead he gets wrapped up in the psychological games of a mysterious millionaire islander called Conchis, who may or may not have helped the Germans in the war, may or may not be able to summon the dead, bend time, and offer a glimpse into a world beyond reality.
The book was a quick read, though dense and literary, and respectful of the reader (he drops many references to The Tempest long before one character points them out). In plot it’s similar to the reality-bending thrillers on the late-’90s, where every 25 pages some new revelation turns all previous events on their heads. Near the end it begins to sound a lot like David Fincher’s “The Game” from 1998, but with much more at stake than making some business executive learn to laugh and love again.
Fowles evokes not just the Greek Island, but the feeling of traveling abroad after college, the sexy danger of it all. The lead character Nicholas is indeed right in the middle of one of those identity-forming experiences, one that Conchis exploits.
The end doesn’t wrap up the plot, but thematically it closes well, though far off into the abstract. There were a few nights where I wound up going to bed at 4 a.m. because I got so caught up in it.

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