(Copying from my Goodreads page)
The Magus is a 650 page book. I read the first 100 pages in a flash, within a day, annotating, clipping, quoting and generally grinning at the broken rake of a protagonist, feeling all kindred hearted. The last 100 pages similarly, I finished in a day, with a pain in the pit of my stomach, wanting this to be quickly over, unable to deal with the depression that came with it (similar to what the protagonist was going through). The middle 450 pages,oh dear lord, are a different story. Those are without doubt the most difficult, the most infuriating set of pages I have ever read in my entire life. It took close to two months to traverse that terrain. In the meantime, I couldn’t read anything else, could not concentrate on anything else, and felt rage, livid rage at what the author was doing. I felt like a prisoner.
And it isn’t because it was boring, or the writing was bad or the story was absurd. Au contraire, this is very fine writing. The very fact that Mr. Fowles pulls this … this monstrosity off is a paean to his skills.
Why was it so difficult then?
This is a book about deceptions. Everyone lies. And not in a convoluted plot sort of way. The lies are very … honest, necessary for the forward movement of the plot. Yes I am lying, and you will know later why. Not only visible to the reader, but also to the characters. It was infuriating beyond measure.
It was while reading this book that I realized the reason why I don’t lie is because I cannot take others lying to me.
What was infuriating was that the choice was wide open, to me, and to the protagonist Mr. Urfe to just walk away anytime, no harm done. The only thing you will lose is further plot development. And the very voice of sanity in the set of fantastical developments prods one forward. How can one not see what lies ahead?
The choice is further lies (someone is lying to you, making an effort to lie to you for an intrigue, for something beyond the ordinary), or a dry boring life. I try to kid myself thinking that 10 times out of 10, I would have walked away from such a situation, from such a woman, but Mr. Urfe did not, and on second painful thoughts, neither would I.
As you can see, character identification forms a large part of my reading experience of this book, and it particularly played with my ego/emotions. Urfe’s emotional scatter, his arrogance and caddishness, I identified with all of that. I lapped up lines like,
“I suppose I’d had, by the standards of that pre-permissive time, a good deal of sex for my age. Girls, or a certain kind of girl, liked me; I had a car-not so common among undergraduates in those days-and I had some money. I wasn’t ugly; and even more important, I had my loneliness, which, as every cad knows, is a deadly weapon with women. My ‘technique’ was to make a show of unpredictability, cynicism, and indifference. Then, like a conjurer with his white rabbit, I produced the solitary heart.”
“I had always believed, and not only out of cynicism, that a man and a woman could tell in the first ten minutes whether they wanted to go to bed together; and that the time that passed after those first ten minutes represented a tax, which might be worth paying if the article promised to be really enjoyable, but which nine times out of ten became rapidly excessive.”
…and it is because I was as much into character as Mr. Urfe, feeling himself too intellectual and impervious of things that could touch him, is why I felt the sucker punch as much. The self doubt, the wrath, the need to punish, all spiralling down into a merciless manic depression. After one point, I wasn’t believing anything (just like the protagonist), and the only way I could make sense of it was because I was holding this physical book in my hands, and I saw that it had a finite ending. It WOULD end. At such moments, I would turn back to the last page, 655, and wistfully sigh.
It is easy to record one’s feelings through the pages here on Goodreads, and I did that with my statuses, here are some of them,
On Page 129 : “Dramatic change in reading speed from Part 1 (till Ch. 10) to Part 2. Screeched to a slow measured trickle. Obfuscation has apparently begun and that is a desired effect. Apparently.”
On Page 210: “I am getting very, very irritated with this book, almost as much as with a real person. I have a very low threshold for teasing, and this book has crossed it a hundred pages back. If this was a real person, I would have walked away long back, keep your fucking mystery and stuff it up your ass. Fucking teasers.”
On Page 480: “Unbelievable, this motherfucking book. Unbelievable.”
The Magus is exquisite torture. The only reason I had picked this up and stayed with it was because of David Simon. He had mentioned in The Wire : Truth Be Told that when he met his partner Ed Burns for the first time, the latter was carrying three books, one of which was the Magus. That had piqued my curiosity enough for me to note the names down. (I have been slowly but surely reading everything in any way related to the Wire)
I am glad that I stuck with it. I am also sure I would definitely read it again. As also sure that I would respect any person who has read this book just a little bit more. This despite the fact that Fowles mentions that only adolescents would love this book. Perhaps I still am one.
P.S. Midway through the book, I realized that the ePub version I am reading, and the physical book I am reading (I often alternate) are quite different. The Magus was revised at a later date by Fowles, and it is quite a comprehensive revision of scenes. If you pick it up, I would suggest the latter, revised version.