by John Fowles (English)
1977 / 629 pages
Rating 9.5 / 20th cent. lit
This book is over-written, it’s dated and it’s predictable. But it got a 9.5 from me.
Overwritten: if Fowles can think of one more way to say a thing he does. This was not so much a problem in The Collector but The Magus showed signs of Fowles wanting to explore and explore the ideas – even when the explorations seem contradictory.
Dated: I’ll bet it was darned good when it came out, but at this point the sexual revolution of the 1960s is kind of over and introspective books on the outdatedness of English morals has been thoroughly explored.
Predictable: A divorced, middle-age Hollywood script-writer and philanderer goes home to England to the death-bed of his friend, a minister and ex-brother-in-law. The minister tells Daniel that he’s known about Daniel’s affair with his wife, Jane, those many, many, many years ago – pre-marital – Dan married Jane’s sister. The knowledge destroyed their marriage. So the minister tells Daniel to look after Jane and then commits suicide. Well … my goodness … what’s a good philanderer to do? He takes Jane on an Egyptian tour and lies to his young girlfriend back home. – So what happens? Jane is very hard to get – Dan wants what he can’t have and Jane is more than reluctant – she knows herself and she knows Dan. What do you think will happen? That’s it. I’ve put a very brief chapter by chapter summary of the plot outline HERE.
That said, how in the world is the rating up in the header justified? Well, there’s more to the story than meets the eye – somehow the themes and the ambiance Fowles works into this novel make it worth the effort – after you get past Nancy’s section – (Phillida – page 345) his first girlfriend. That’s when things kind of start to come together, when the endless introspective considerations and self-absorbed discussions give way to more honest communications – somewhat.
At that point the alternating 1st and 3rd person points of view work better – at that point the back-stories pretty much stop. At that point things start to happen, although very, very slowly, in the frame story and we start to see that the opening sentence, “Whole Sight: or all the rest is Desolation,” means something – complete portrayals of the characters, or at least of Dan.
I enjoyed the interplay of ideas, the style, once I got used to it’s rhythms was fine and the ambiance of some settings was terrific. I despised Dan at first and I never was too sure about trusting him but … And Jane remained a kind of wounded mystery.
Overall I think this is the kind of book which needs second and perhaps third readings to really comprehend.