Written January 1st
The Magus is an important book for me, and one of those – like Marlowe’s Dr Faustus and Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey – that a too intense reading of during my late adolescence/early adulthood can be blamed for the absolute shitshow that was my twenties1.
I didn’t, though, reread that battered undergraduate paperback (likely stained with cigarette ash, woefully cheap lager and masturbatory, demivierge, semen), I instead read a hardback copy of John Fowles’ 1977 “Revised Version”, which is one of the two books I liberated from its incarceration as part of a “books bought by the yard” type display in the provincial hotel where the after-party for my maternal grandmother’s funeral was held in September 2014.
The other book – The Abominable Goat by Stephen Lister – I mistook for something else, I think, tho I was never able to confirm whether or not it was indeed the obscure book EM Forster mentioned in his Commonplace Book (a posthumous collection of his unpublished notes), but tbh that’s solely because at no point did I try and find that out. I just read Lister’s book, was underwhelmed, and got on with my life, as increasingly unhappy and hedonistic as it was back then.
The Magus: A Revised Version, however, I hung onto, waiting until I felt I deserved a nostalgic return trip to one of my earliest, greatest, literary pleasures.
Also I hesitated because it’s over 650 pages in length, and a hardback. I hate hardbacks, because I mostly only read while walking and it’s a lot harder to do that with a hardback than a paperback, because they’re larger and heavier and rarely – if ever – fit into a pocket, which is also an essential and under-praised property for books to possess.2
When I’m truly excited about a book, I often postpone reading it because of fear.
Fear that I won’t enjoy it and I’ll be disappointed, which is something I’d then have to publicly admit to due to my laaaaame habit of blogging about basically every single book I read, and typing that I was let down, disappointed, by a book is forcing myself to put into words and therefore admitting to myself that my project of reading emotive, entertaining and/or informative literature is failing.
That project, the project of near-constant reading, is my life.
To read a bad book is to fail at my life. When I’m reading a book that is badly written, my mood is conspicuously worse, I’ve told you this before.
I carried this hardback copy of The Magus with me all around London in the hectic mess that was the second half of my 2017, and then took it with me for the six months I spent in Spain, and then brought it with me over the Atlantic and-
I’ve spoken about the journey of my library on here so many fucking times
It’s boring, isn’t it?
Everything is boring.
I’d love to thrill you with scandalous descriptions of my alcohol abuse or my financially-suicidal schemes or my self-harming or my intense hatred of my too fat body, but I’m even too bored to be doing any of those things at the moment.
I’m far from the most depressed I’ve ever been.
I’m working a lot and in my thirties so drinking less because working with a hangover has become – as was foretold – more difficult.
Yes, my body looks disgusting right now, but I have only been able to exercise regularly as an adult in one specific way, and that way (watching prestige television on a treadmill) remains prohibited due to the continuing global pandemic (COVID-19, ever heard of it???), and beating myself up (literally, lol, that’s a little self-harming gag) would be counterproductive to my general well-being.
As of right now – January 1st, 2021 – I’m feeling relatively grounded and relatively safe.
I’m bored, but unless I catch COVID and get a bad case of it, I think I’m going to get through the six or nine or twelve months or whatever that remains of this COVID world without psychiatric collapse.
Then again, maybe by the evening of the second I’ll be in another massive hole.
Who’s to know???
The Magus – I read the original so long ago that any attempt at comparing this revised version with that earlier version would be pointless – is about a young, handsome, English wannabe poet who goes teaching English abroad, close to the Mediterranean.
Unlike 2018’s forward-looking and optimistic scott manley hadley, tho, Nicholas Urfe heads to the other end of the European Sea – to a Greek island, and an elite Greek boarding school set up in the style of an English public school, i.e. one for those awful privileged types who should be avoided as much as possible.
Urfe leaves behind a sexy-but-clingy Australian girlfriend in London and heads to Greece. While on the island, he falls in with a mysterious, opulently wealthy man who calls himself Conchis, though this is not his real name.
Over the course of the last few months of Urfe’s year on the island, Conchis initiates Urfe into what he calls a “godgame”, which is basically when the old hyper-rich man and a coterie of weird, also fabulously wealthy, actors completely take over Urfe’s life through hypnosis, lies, kidnapping, stealing all of his post, faking letters and off-island events (including the suicide of the sexy Australian), seducing him with sexy blonde twins who are part of the acting gang (there’s an excellent hand-job scene at one point), and the layers and layers of lies and quasi-lies and lies about lies and truths about lies that turn out to be lies and truths about lies that turn out to be-
Urfe is manipulated and psychologically abused. He is wanked off in the shallows of the Mediterranean by a sexy woman (I’m using the word “sexy” repeatedly because that is the tone of Fowles’ writing: there is continual and very dated casual sexism throughout, though the overarching plot isn’t as sexist as it seems early on, i.e. the sexy twins are not victims of Conchis, but active and engaged participants and partners in the creation of the bizarre routines and mindgames played with Urfe to amuse each other.
The “godgame” is cruel and confusing, and as a reader it’s a lot of fun to be whisked along by Fowles as he drags Urfe through a car crash of misinformation and deceit, always five steps behind his tormentors, especially whenever he erroneously believes himself ahead of them.
Basically, The Magus is about how not being in control of your life is sexy.
It’s about how affluence and power are things we should consider ourselves lucky to get the opportunity to be around, things that we should always gravitate towards.
Money and cruelty, presumed intellectualism and hedonism and appreciation of art are seen to be things to be awed by: there is pleasure to be had in letting go, in allowing the self to be swept along by the plans and the machinations of the wealthy, and – on a sociopolitical level – maybe we are all, inevitably and literally – swept along by the caprices and weird sadistic impulses of the rich.
I loved reading The Magus. I will likely read it again. I have sourced more Fowles in the time since.
I would love to be on a hot island, getting wanked off in the surf and being OK with my life being completely out of control.
Maybe I just loved it because I’m wildly pro hand-jobs in fiction?
Maybe I just loved it because it reminded me of discovering the power and joy of postmodern literature?
Maybe I just loved it because in many ways I too was godgamed when younger, and like Nicholas Urfe it’s something that I’ve been able – at least artistically – to bounce back from.
Ok, that’s it. I’m gonna go and bake myself a pie.1. For more on that, read my books, more details below.↩ 2. Both Bad Boy Poet and the pleasure of regret should fit in a pocket.↩
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