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
"There is scarcely any passion without struggle." Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays
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.
I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - Salinger ^(;,;)^
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."
"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.
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.
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 the best novel I have ever read. The narration by Nicholas Boulton was exciting and suspenseful despite my having read the novel twice in the past. If one has never read The Magus, I would recommend listening to this audio performance first as the interpretation is perfect and the storyline via this narration is thrilling.
I decided to read The Magus because I enjoyed the French Leftenant's Woman greatly, both book and film. So I embarked on this novel with high hopes. I knew Fowles would probably deal with mental illness and psychological profiling again and was interested on his interpretation.
Although beautifully written with a superb narrator, I had anathema for the main protagonist. I stuck with it as it got my mind working overtime about all the possibilities of the plot line as I went in blind not knowing anything about the story line. It was an endurance test for me.
Although a product of it's time, it has some interesting and correct predictions of what the apres war generations would look like and those beyond. Their behaviours and spending habits and general changes in what would be considered acceptable behaviour. A prediction of the kind of male women would find themselves dealing with in future generations.
I found I could not find any empathy or sympathy for Nicholas. I think I would agree with the Woody Allen quote "If I had to live my life again, I'd do everything the same, except that I wouldn't see The Magus."
for me I would not read The Magus.
no, but I will view this author with more caution
Long time Audible member, and this is the best narration I've ever heard. More like acting than a reading, but still keeps the text central. Amazing voices that add to, rather than distract from, the story. Simply perfect.
Business Physicist and Astronomer
Fowles uses a lot of words and a long story to express very few interesting ideas. This book is a victim of time as the style of the wise man talking and talking and talking through some weird live play by a group of would be philosophers is at times both dull and absurd. It feels like something that would be popular in the 60s and 70s. The old man isn't a wise sage, he's a bit of a crank. Naturally, his war time experience influenced his personality. That's a given.
But if I went to dinner at someone's place and they started pulling some weird psycho games I'd leave. That's why I find this piece dated in that these days no one would stick around for act 2. That's probably why this book is fading from popularity.
It's well performed and I made to the last word though that isn't the end...
You'll love it or hate it. Good luck. It's a long trip that leads to nowhere.
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.
"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).
"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.
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.
Read the book on my 20's and loved it. Was in tears at the end. Listened now at nearly 40 and it's a different book entirely. I no longer feel sorry for Nicholas as I did first time round.
This is an amazing book and the narrator here is superb!
they are all facinating
I have read the book twice but understood much more by listening
A brilliant book
"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!
"Living the mystery"
I read every novel written by John Fowles years ago and, as this was my first Audible book, I decided to choose one I would like to 'read' again.
The Magus is long and complicated, the plot twists and splinters and reassembles with many references to the classics, The Tempest and Othello. John Fowles's gift was that he could write literary novels with a pace that lures you into the story. I couldn't stop listening. It made completing mundane everyday tasks interesting.
Nicholas Boulton is the perfect reader and captured the anti-hero perfectly. He brought the other characters alive including the female ones - especially vulnerable Australian Alison who falls in love with the selfish hero.
Apparently John Fowles called this a young man's book and it took him years to write. I am not surprised. My only gripe is that his protagonist is not likeable enough - I like well rounded characters but there were times I felt little sympathy for him.
The Greek island is vividly brought to life and I was as fooled by Maurice's mysterious masque as the protagonist was.
A wonderful, unusual novel. I would recommend to lovers of literary fiction who also like a page turner.
"Intriguing and mystical"
Brilliantly narrated. Had read it many years ago so glad to revisit. Many classical and historical references give the story depth. Excellent characters, humanly flawed and mysterious. Never predictable twists and turns never sure where we are going to be led next.
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