Tag Archives: The Magus

The Magus by John Fowles

11th January 2012

Received this summer from the fabulous Sean at Read Heavily.

Nicholas Urfe is mediocre and bored with his life in England. After multiple affairs with messy endings, he takes a teaching job on a remote island in Greece, but before he leaves, the previous instructor gives him a cryptic warning: “Beware of the waiting room.”

Once on Phraxos, Nicko’s old habits catch up to him, and he’s once again bored until he comes across Mr. Conchis (pronounced, oddly enough, like “conscious”) and the forewarned waiting room. Mr. Conchis, or the magus, challenges every thought Nicholas has ever had, frightening him and forcing him to play a game without parameters and in which there is no true winner.

You know how in movies people go in fun houses except they’re not really fun because someone is totally going to die in the fun house? The Magus. And you silently yell at the character not to go into the fun house, but they do it anyway? Nicholas Urfe.

This is an incredibly difficult book to explain because oh lord, it’s exactly like walking in a fun house. You go in and everything seems innocent and slightly fun, and then what you know is turned on its head. The biggest lesson of the fun house and The Magus? You cannot be sure of anything.

As I read The Magus, I had the oddest and most unnerving feeling I’ve ever experienced, and I must say it was much more terrifying than the scariest book I’ve ever read. Because as Mr. Conchis plays with Nicholas’ ideas of reality, so too does he play with the reader’s. Mr. Conchis initially tells the story of Lily, a woman he loved and lost to death, and by the time “Lily” appears, it was so expected and anticipated – yet eerie and unreal – that I didn’t quite know what to do with myself. Nicholas reacts in much the same way and the more Conchis unsettles what Nicholas knows to be real, the less Nicholas is sure that anything is real. At the same time I silently begged Nicholas not to return to the lair of Mr. Conchis, I also urged him forward, eager to see what hellish turn or conclusion there might be.

The book jacket describes the novel as “a maze, a dark door,” and I agree. Much like a fun house, a maze is something fairly innocuous. It is in the inevitable failure to find our way out that the maze becomes something other than a puzzle, the monster under the bed, or the ghost in the attic. In The Magus, Fowles attempts to undo all civilized, organized belief systems and ways of thinking in order to push the reader into somewhere beyond, into a waiting room of sorts that, if you are willing to constantly question yourself and your surrounding, you may or may not ever leave. Because outside the walls of the maze, are we really any less restricted or sure of our way?

Fascinating and petrifying, this novel is a must read for students of philosophy or those who love intellectual thrillers.

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Reading the old year out…

31st December 2011

And I must say, I’m not at all sad to see the back end of 2011. It was a very tumultuous year, and I am very happy to be ringing in a new year this evening with a mini-readathon cooked up by two other bloggers (Becky and Tasha) and myself. There will be champagne, so in the infinite wisdom and singing voice of Bing Crosby, let’s start the new year right.

But. Before we get to that, I wanted to do a year end post. As of midnight on December 30, I have read 121 books. Of these, 46 were written by men and 75 written by women (wow!); 109 fiction and 12 nonfiction. This year I read 9 audiobooks, and considering I read none last year, that’s quite a jump. Also, just so you can see my habits, 42 of these books came from the publisher/author/publicist, but I bought 52 and checked out 26 from the library, a pretty decent statistic. Now down to brass tacks….

Least favorite books of the year: Let’s just get this one out of the way. I only really disliked two books this year, and if you’ve been around for a bit, you can probably guess the first one: The Magicians by Lev Grossman. The other I just finished this morning: Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me by Ian Morgan Cron. I’ll put up a review next week with details. Suffice it to say, memoirs are tricky.

Best New-to-Me Series: Well, obviously I love the Patricia Wentworth Miss Silver books, but seeing as they were written in the last century, I won’t call them new. If you’re looking for a vintage mystery, give these a go. Also consider joining me for Miss Silver Saturdays through 2012.

Best New Series: I just finished Discovery of Witches and am pretty much in love with it. I can’t wait for the next one. Many compare it to Twilight, but for me, it was much more reminiscent of the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. I loved it!

Funniest Book: Hands down, Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman. In fact, this is a book that I plan to re-read soon, I liked it that much. Definitely keep an eye out for debut author Matt Norman.

Best Dark Comedy: Funny Man by John Warner. I’m really surprised this book hasn’t gotten more attention, as I think it’s pretty genius in a lot of ways. I’m really eager to see what else Warner writes.

Book that Made Me Think Rainbow Rowell stole my life and wrote about it: Attachments. Runner up for funniest book of the year, it was just so perfectly me. Sadly, many other bloggers have said the same thing, so obviously I ain’t anything special. Distinctive? Pshaw.

Book That Seriously Creeped Me Out and Blew My Mind: The Magus by John Fowles. Review next week, and boy howdy, what a book. Thanks so much to Sean at Read Heavily for the gift.

Best Middle Grade Book: Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier. Absolute fun and super smart. Reminds me of books written when I was young.

Book that Made Me Cry: Thankfully there were only two of these this year (one sparked this post about crying in reading). The other is A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead. This is nonfiction and about the women of the French Resistance. It’s incredibly moving to see just how much the human spirit can endure.

Most Beautiful Book: The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock. This is physically just a beautiful, beautiful specimen of a book. The cover art, the inside art, the paper. It’s technically the biography of a woman artist, but it’s so much more than that.

Biggest Surprise: Ian Fleming’s Bond series. Yes, he can be a misogynistic, slightly-racist ass, but damn, these books are good. If you think you know Bond from the films, think again and join Lit Housewife’s Shaken Not Stirred challenge. You won’t be disappointed.

~and last but not least~

Best Book of 2011: Galore by Michael Crummey. I read this book in April, but it will not leave me. The story is timeless, the writing superb. If you haven’t read it, make sure you add it to your list for the new year. I compare it to East of Eden by Steinbeck and House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende. One of my favorite passages from the book is below:

~Watching Judah emerge from the whale’s guts, King-me felt the widow was birthing everything he despised in the country, laying it out before him like a taunt. Irish nor English, Jerseyman nor bushborn nor savage, not Roman or Episcopalian or apostate, Judah was the wilderness on two legs, mute and unknowable, a blankness that could drown a man.

So that’s my list. I wish you all the best in 2012 and hope to see you back here. Thank you all for reading, commenting, emailing, etc. I so enjoy your company.

And on that note, what was your favorite book this year?