I have just spent two weeks devouring John Fowles’s The Magus. The time has flown by. It is a compelling piece of literature: truly outstanding.
The story concerns a young man who, after a failed relationship in London, takes up a post teaching English on a small, post-war Greek island. There he meets a mature gentleman who begins unravelling his life story. Soon, people from the tales appear and participate in what becomes a dreamlike experience for our man. As he becomes involved with more and more characters from the old man’s often contradictory stories, he begins to question everything he knows or thought he knew. He is not sure whether the old conjuror is tricking or helping him.
It is a simple premise for a novel, but Fowles tells the story with all the truth and complexity of real life. The reader quickly becomes addicted not just to the exhilarating plot but also the characters themselves. The reader is just as clueless as the narrator: therein lies the secret to this finely constructed mystery.
Most impressively, the novel says a great many things about human relationships. As a 25-year-old man from a middle class background, our man still has a lot to learn about the people he encounters and becomes involved with. He matures throughout the course of this novel: indeed, that is the focus of his character development. This could have been more complex, but it is the novel’s only area that needs improvement. Otherwise, Fowles’s novel is perfect. Only a true conjuror could have dreamed it up.