Confession #1: I actually read the 1977 revised version of The Magus, which was originally published in 1965. Alas, the revised version is what was available at the library.
Confession #2: I read most of the book in March because this baby is over 600 pages long!
The Magus was John Fowles third published novel. Today, I think he is better known for his debut The Collector or his fourth novel, The French Lieutenant's Woman. The reason I chose to read The Magus (other than its publication date) for the 1965 Club was because it is on the Modern Library's 100 Best Novels in English of the 20th Century, a list I have been slowly reading through on since 1998. I still have 25 titles left to read and cross off.
The story is narrated by Nicholas Urfe and it begins very much like a 19th century novel, "I was born in 1927, the only child of middle-class parents, both English, and themselves born in the grotesquely elongated shadow, which they never rose sufficiently above history to leave, of that monstrous dwarf, Queen Victoria."
The first 50 pages or so are Nicholas recounting his childhood and education, bringing the reader to to the present day as he is in his mid-twenties and ready to flee gray London for a teaching job at a boy's boarding school located on a remote Greek island. Also Nicholas is fleeing an intense relationship with a young Australian woman which Nicholas is too immature to handle, though he doesn't realize it at the time.
"The thing I felt most clearly, when the first corner was turned, was that I had escaped; and hardly less clearly, but much more odiously, that she loved me more than I loved her, and that consequently I had in some indefinable way won. So on top of the excitement of the voyage in to the unknown, the taking wing again, I had an agreeable feeling of emotional triumph. A dry feeling; but I liked things dry. I went towards Victoria as a hungry man goes towards a good dinner after a couple of glasses of Mananzilla. I began to hum, and it was not a brave attempt to hid my grief, but a revoltingly unclouded desire to celebrate my release."
I'm not sure if it comes across in the above quote, but Nicholas is kind of an a**hat. It is something I as a reader had to wrestle with, since the book is entirely in Nicholas' point of view and we tend to want to empathize with first person narrators.
Once Nicholas is on the island, he meets a mysterious millionaire, Maurice Conchis, who owns a private villa not far from the boarding school. It quickly becomes clear that Conchis is very interested in and possibly manipulating Nicholas, but to what end? As the book progresses, both Nicholas and the reader begin to doubt reality and question Conchis' motives. To say any more would be to go into spoiler territory. Just know that the original title of the book was "The Godgame".
I do think I would have appreciated the metaphysical aspects of The Magus more had I read it when I was younger. As a novel, it is very much a thought-experiment and it asks some really big questions about psychology, religion, mythology, free-will, etc. It is a book I admired more than I actually enjoyed.
I read this for the 1965 Club hosted by bloggers Simon at Stuck in a Book and Karen at Kaggsy's Bookish Ramblings and I thank them both for this opportunity!