The Magus by John Fowles
The following review is presented in the form of a letter to the author because I knew nothing about the book going into it and I want to preserve that total cone of silence for you, possible new readers. I don’t want to give anything of the plot or content away to you because I think this book is best experienced knowing nothing going in. If you read it, you’ll see how appropriate that is.
Dear Mr. Fowles:
I know you are dead, but your book The Magus so moved me that I thought I would write anyway. And, hey, maybe the internet is powerful enough to seep into the afterlife (or maybe the afterlife is so powerful it can see the internet…one way or another, I hope you’re reading this).
While I was reading The Magus, real life lost its meaning. The Magus made me want to skip work, stop sleeping, abandon bathing, and eat hurriedly while still reading it because that book was all that mattered. When I wasn’t reading it–those wasted moments of actual living!–I thought anxiously about it, desperate to get back. When I was reading it, everything else disappeared. I missed bus stops, I forgot time, and I was immeasurably content. All I wanted during the course of reading your phenomenal book was to continue reading it, uninterrupted, in a safe chair with a glass of water at my side. I was haunted, mystified, enchanted…ensorcelled, perhaps.
I knew absolutely nothing about you or your book before I happened upon it at the library. It was a hardback missing its dustcover so there was nothing for the book could even tell me about itself beyond conveying its own physicality: a broken spine, an appealing grey cloth binding, and the remnants of shiny letters that once identified it on the spine.
Perhaps it was the inexplicably familiar feeling of the book that caused me to take it home. Maybe it was a faint memory of your work on my mother’s bookshelves that inspired me. Or maybe it was just my inherent fascination with magic that made me thing something called “The Magus” couldn’t be bad. I can’t say what made me check it out. But I do think now that I’m glad I did.
It wasn’t until later that I found out you were one of the most praised and admired writers of the 20th century. Later I found out The Magus was considered by many one of the best novels ever written. A masterwork. And I can see why. Your book is immeasurably good. Impossibly good. It’s one of those books where you just know you’re holding something ineffably well-done. Nothing about it screams amazing, but the combination of all that nothing is irresistible.
You managed to create for your readers an experience equivalent to that being enacted by your protagonist within the book. You made reading the book as exciting as being in it, although admittedly with less immediate danger. (Unless you consider missing bus stops and being late to everything because I was reading your book dangerous. I can’t say I do in comparison with what happens in your book.) You questioned truth and shook any belief your reader had in anything or anyone in The Magus so that the ending, which I know was intentionally ambiguous, became even more unanswerable. What happened after that? I’ve been thinking about it for days and, while I know what I wanted to happen, I still have no idea of it actually did or even could, after everything else.
I cannot say, Mr. Fowles, that the entire book was as remarkable as Part Two, where most of the action takes place, but I can say that even with Part Three trailing off in a rather disappointing fashion, I am still in awe of your book as a whole. It was an unequaled experience to read it (live it, more like) for a few days and I just wanted to write and thank you for that. I honestly didn’t know books could do that. Thank you so much.