John Fowles’ The Magus was a literary landmark of the 1960s. Nicholas Urfe goes to a Greek island to teach at a private school and becomes enmeshed in curious happenings at the home of a mysterious Greek recluse, Maurice Conchis. Are these events, involving attractive young English sisters, just psychological games, or an elaborate joke, or more? Reality shifts as the story unfolds.
The Magus reflected the issues of the 1960s perfectly, but even almost half a century after its first publication, it continues to create tension and concern, remaining the page-turner that it was when it was first released.
©1977 J. R. Fowles Ltd (P)2012 Naxos AudioBooks
A part-time buffoon and ersatz scholar specializing in BS, pedantry, schmaltz and cultural coprophagia.
What is written here must remain hidden. So now that you've scrolled down, let the game begin.
Hurry, let's unpack this quick. I felt like I've already spent far too much time being frustrated by the many curves, mysteries, deceptions in this book. I loved 'The French Lieutenant's Woman' and really, really liked 'The Collector' and there were many parts and many scenes from 'the Magus' that I really, really liked and even loved. But reading 'the Magus' reminded me of those novels one reads, and are far better read, when one is a nubile Freshman in college or a precocious HS Senior. I'm thinking of most of Tom Robbins, Chuck Palahniuk, JD Salinger, Ayn Rand, and Camus (to a certain extent). These are books that indeed can be considered literary (except for Ayn Rand), and have some form of magic buried within them that attracts the 20 y/o literary set. These are books that become fetish items. Carried, dog-earred, and flashed between the group to communicate their fealty to a group, game or club.
But looking back, they just don't seem to have the same magic or mystery for me. I should have read 'the Magus' in HS. I should have tried it all on sometime before I turned 30. It was smart, but the magic was gone, burned off, disappeared. The lights have been turned on. The big questions (for me, at this time in my life) seemed answered or perhaps just not that damn important. So, death.
Again, I love Fowles' prose, but part of this book felt like wading through azure pudding in a chemical fog. There were pages and pages where I just felt tired, exhausted, with burning eyes wondering why I kept turning the pages. Part Marquis de Sade, part 'Eyes Wide Shut', part PoMo philosophical exploration of freedom and love. Again, this ranks up there (I mean top, top tier) with the best novels that I really think I hate.
I did find a tidbit that might help those who are contemplating finishing this. In trying to explain different approaches to 'the Magus' Fowles explained to a young girl:
"But two approaches - The Magus is trying to suggest to Nicholas that reality, human existence is infinitely baffling. One gets one explanation - the CHristian, the psychological, the scientific ... but always it gets burnt off like summer mist and a new landscape-explanation appears. He suggests that the one valid reality or principle for us lies in eleutheria - freedom. Accept that man has the possibility for his actions. To be free (which means rejecting all the gods and political creeds and the rest) leaves one no choice but to act according to reason: that is, humanely to all humans."
if you are willing to let yourself get immersed in the world Fowles creates you should be as mesmerized as i was. i read this a long time ago and enjoyed it then, thinking it was one of the better things i've read and now after much time has elapsed i think so again. it is steeped in mystery, existentialism, Greek mythos and more. Fowles is an intelligent writer and a fine craftsman and leaves you with questions to ponder but gives you many clues along the way. I left it this time thinking that the Orpheus and Eurydice myth was key, but there are so many references to Greek myth sprinkled throughout that it may be a blending of several with Orpheus, Hades, Persephone, etc., the fertility strain being the key. I love it, and look forward to revisiting more Fowles. very intellectual and nice to be challenged to puzzle it all out for myself, no easy answers.
John Fowles’ now underappreciated novel is a mystical morality play on love, truth, maturity, reality and sexual and emotional betrayal. "The Magus" is set on a Greek island lush in the legends of Apollo, Artemis, Orpheus and Eurydice, and involves our protagonist, Nicholas Urfe, a mysterious island local and pretty young English ladies. While the year of the story is 1953 in the aftermath of WWII, in many ways it seems as timely as today.
If you read reviews, you won’t get much more of a description, other than below a Spoiler Alert heading. To explain it more would require pages and would, in many ways, be like explaining the recent novel “Gone Girl” or the movie “The Sixth Sense”: it would ruin the whole experience for you.
Like Gone Girl, I could NOT put it down. Truly in its own league, particularly considering it was published nearly 50 years ago.
Read the whole thing. Yes, I know, 4 words.
Wonderful voices, male and female, different accents, brings the book alive.
This is a hard book to review without being a spoiler, so I'll limit myself to the process of the reader/listener. I spent at least the first third of the book developing a thorough dislike for the protagonist, as Fowles intended. I hated him so completely that I asked myself why I was still listening. This is not a women's novel, no surprise considering the author penned The French Lieutenant's Woman, and more's the pity: Fowles advanced about 85% to where he needed to go. Still, not bad, in the scheme of things, i.e., judged from the perspective of 2013.The remainder of the book builds the major theme, an examination of... individual ethics (now called "personal responsibility") ... in a modern way, considering the book was written in the 60's. That's a poor summary but all I'm willing to give away. It reads and feels like a 60's period piece to one who lived through the era. Don't worry, it's not preachy. A reader who likes to anticipate plot twists will have plenty of material to work with. Ultimately, this is not a novel about plot. That's all I can say. Finish it.
I do have a quibble about the production of this reading. It included numerous quotations in foreign languages without translations. My understanding, not to mention my enjoyment, would have improved with translations!
"The Magus" is something in itself. I think Fowles used to express his admiration for "Le Grand Meaulnes", which I read decades ago and can't remember (oi). Have bought the Audible version, though, and still need to listen to it. Perhaps a reading of Fowles's "The Aristos" (his second book, published two years before "The Magus"), might not be a bad idea in preparation for "Magus".
Not yet, but looking at his other readings. Incidentally, he is particularly good at reading female voices. In some other audiobooks (e.g. two versions of "The Alexandria Quartet") the male readers would have done better in keeping to a more normal pitch.
There are several brilliant moments and parts, but the scene in which Conchis hypnotises Nicholas was particularly masterfully done. Boulton's reading makes one aware of something magical, "metaphysical", totally illusory, and irresistible. Perhaps fatal, too. The reading achieves what the printed word can't do quite as well: mesmerise the listener.
Boulton's reading made me aware of many things that I missed in my own readings of "The Magus". For me, his reading made this book shimmer all the more.
Could have skipped this one!
Yes, and he has a mesrmerizing voice that I can not get enough of
I found the book to be utter torture, but it is superbly read on NAXOS by Nicholas Boulton. I listened all the way to the bitter end only because I did not want to dismiss a work so highly praised (it's on many 100 Best Novel lists) without reading all of it. Otherwise I found it a waste of time. The characters are utterly shallow and uninteresting: they often seem like literary projections of adolescent sexual fantasies. The prose is laden with so many clichés that the printed book, if indexed, could serve as a list of sentences and expressions for authors to avoid. As a character, only the central figure of the magus himself is interesting, but when all the views of him are finally assembled, they add up to zero. Fowles himself probably didn't know what he was getting at. The entire book is full of pseudo profundities. The '60s were the breeding ground for hollow genius.
I imagine "The Magus" is his weakest work -- at least I hope so! It will be a long time before I am tempted to read "The Collector" and/or "The French Lieutenant's Woman." "The Magus" seems produced for a youthful '60s audience easily beguiled by fathomless mysteries and psychedelic nonsense. There are some striking moments (the passages dealing with the Nazis on the Greek island), but nothing adds up in the end. Watching "The Magus" movie, BTW, is an interesting way to compound one's irritation. Fowles himself wrote the dreadful screenplay which does not match the book in hundreds of important ways.
The man is superb -- getting all the characters' accents clearly distinguished from one another, and reading with conviction. He seems unfazed by passages in foreign languages.
I would rather hear him read this to me than to have to sit still with the book itself.
Yes. I will forever avoid 100 Best lists! I think this novel made it because a generation of LSD stoned English students ended up teaching in college lit departments. Then they got to vote on their favorite novels.
I think you can love this book if you are very young, your hormones are raging and you can project your amorous fantasies onto the characters. It also helps to be fond of detective stories -- although this mystery has no definite resolution. "The Magus" is pulp fiction at its core, but it pretends to be high art.
This is one of my favourite novels which I have already read three times. I have enjoyed it on a whole new level with this stunning audiobook presentation. Nicholas Boulton does an amazing job. I cannot recommend it enough.
"Wasn't as I remembered it"
It's a dated book but still very enjoyable listen
It made me want to revisit Greece.
The plot is highly unlikely but the listener can just about suspend disbelief and go with the story.
The narrator was great
I bought this ages ago and it's taking ages to get through it. The descriptive language is great and you feel as though you can really sense the med. however the characters are so two dimensional and unappealing that its difficult to keep going.
The narrator is fine. Does his job.
no but maybe I'll eventually finish it. Its a good time filler if your on a long journey for instance.
"Great reading by Nicholas Boulton"
Form and content perfectly matched. A great reading from Nicholas Boulton of a very enjoyable and thought provoking book.
I am now 50 and have not revisited this novel (one of my favourites in my earlier years) in detail since I last read it in my 20's. It was still a riveting read, although - perhaps with maturity - I now see more of the things that don't quite work or seem dated. Overall, still electrifying with a strong propulisve narrative drive allied to a consideration of how to approach life and love.
Almost all the characters were interesting in some way, even if some worked far better than others.
I thought Nicholas Boulton's reading was absolutely outstanding - and that is what has driven me to this review - he deserves the credit. He pitched Nicolas Urfe's voice exactly how I imagined it: cynical and not entirely likeable, yet still eliciting a degree of sympathy with the listener. The supporting voices: various greeks, germans, women as well as men were also very well presented and clearly distinguishable - without turning them into caricatures. The pace and inflection of the reading was even, but varied where necessary in a nuanced and subtle way to underline and represent emotions.
I wouldn't. It's already been tried with Michael Caine and although watchable could not really represent the ideas Fowles was bringing out in the novel.
"Just what I was looking for"
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The story is quirky, but there's never a dull moment. The characters are very well developed, warts and all, and the descriptions of Phraxos make you want to jump on the next plane to Greece. Nicholas Boulton's narration is very clear and easy to listen to. He would get five stars from me if he would just vary the delivery a bit more.
More like this, please!
This is without a doubt my favorite book of all time, and now favorite audiobook. So many twists, a book that will have you thinking about it long after you after you have finished it!
"This uses the original, pre-revised version"
While not advertised as such, this reading must use the original text, and not Fowles' later and published revision. The differences appear to be slight and infrequent. This may perplex on occasions, if, like me, you move between text and audio, but also it might add a layer of interest or fascination: it is, after all, that kind of book. Rereading the novel after quite some years, I enjoyed it less - knowledge of its ending can dim the experience second time around, but this is version is fluently read, and, as the novel progresses, Fowles' ability to pace the story, create suspenseful chapter endings, and involve a reader/listener grows all the greater. Thriller writers could learn from the way in which, after the novel's deceptively leisurely start, he teases and spurs the reader onwards (and inwards).
"Pretentious and dated"
‘The Magus’ is in truth just a Mills & Boon romance concerning a privileged, egotistical dropout and a promiscuous Australian air hostess, but set in a universe such as might be envisaged by a drug-fuelled post-modernist pseud. At 21, I was enthralled by the page-turning intrigue of its first third but frustrated at the final course it took; so I’ve listened to it again to see if the years might have improved my opinion. Quite the reverse. Whichever way you look at it, the book has problems. If you take it literally, it has as preposterous a plot as you could get. And if you read it as an allegory like ‘The Odyssey’ or ‘The Divine Comedy’ or ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ – with all the characters representing latter-day gods interfering in the affairs of the autobiographical hero-figure – then it’s the author’s message that it has to be judged by. Though you can see why it appealed to the beat generation, its libertarian philosophising looks from our perspective like what it was: the hedonistic yearnings of another of those effete mid-century Oxbridge intellectuals who, being of no use to the society that begat them, spent their lives shafting it.
Nicholas Boulton does a fine job of evoking not only the angry young narrator but also a full cast of exotic characters; and indeed in several convincingly pronounced languages, including American. So it’s a pity that he’s ignorant of how every 20th-century Englishman said ‘cigarette’.
If you’ve limited time, you’re probably better off reading Fowles’s ‘The Collector’ or ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’, both of which are far less ambitious or pretentious. If you like them, you may then want to have a crack at this one: for, despite Fowles’s earnest efforts to improve on the now debunked Sartre, it might be worth reading just for its whimsical set-pieces and the beauty of its Greek imagery. And it will certainly give you an insight into the self-obsessed ideology that fired the youthful imagination of today’s political masters.
"Did not enjoy this one."
I simply did not enjoy this book. Some very long passages that, in my view, detracted from the story. Reality turned upside-down so that both the main character and I were left wondering whether certain scenes were supposed to be genuine or not. In the end, I just couldn't see the point of the whole thing.
Not one of my better choices.
I read this years ago, but nothing could have prepared me for the audio version, it is beautifully written, beautifully read. Perfect prose with amazing descriptive passages.
I don't recall anything else I may have heard by this reader, but oh, my goodness he is wonderful, maintaining a perfect balance of characters and atmosphere throughout this long, entrancing novel..
Would have liked to, and indeed it accompanied me to bed on several occasions, but it is a very long book, and with the best will in the world I had to sleep!
Going to buy some more John Fowles soon.
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