May Goodreads Challenge – The Magus

For May I chose The Magus to read from my remaining books. I’ve read John Fowles before – The French Lieutenant’s Woman is one of my favourite books so I had high hopes about The Magus.

It is a big book – not just in length but in content. The blurb talks about our protagonist, Nicholas Urfe, being held by a master trickster – but make no mistake, the master trickster in residence here is Fowles himself.

It took me a long time to read it – not because it was uninteresting or particularly hard, but because it just is a very big book. That being said, the last 200 pages roared by as the plot kicked it up about four gears.

Nicholas Urfe, as a typical rudderless middle-class graduate of the post-war era, finds himself teaching English in a Greek school for boys on a remote, isolated island. It follows nicely from Romance of the Forest with a travel literature edge. Fowles captures Greece wonderfully – his prose reminded me of holidays to Crete and Lesvos and brought back lovely memories. I also liked the TEFL aspect, especially so as Nicholas had similar feelings of unfulfilment regarding teaching that I had experienced in my short tenure.

The book is best thought of as London and England bracketing either side of the fat Grecian middle section. Nicholas flees a girlfriend, disappointment in his own failings and general disillusionment to an island that then reflects these three things again back at him. The master trickster he meets is a strange patriarch, Conchis, who Fowles paints expertly as a man who shifts in all but shape. There are powerful moments detailing Conchis’s life, in particular the recollection of his days serving on the front in WWI, but in typical Fowles style (a la French Lieutenant’s Woman) the rug is pulled out from under the reader’s feet. As a result, the story is lush, deceptive, and twists and turns at every page.

I enjoyed it, though it was strange, and at times felt a little laboured. (I am in the middle of my own editing so I’m seeing everything bloated and over-egged so I might just be projecting outwards.) As a mystery it was good to figure bits out, though sometimes the cycles of mystery were so dense it was hard to decide what the actual point of it all was. It felt a little too high-brow for me at times: a lot about psychology and psychiatry, which went over my head, and sometimes it was hard to keep track of what was real and what wasn’t (though I guess that was purposeful). Nicholas, our narrator, also did my head in from time to time. He was full of his own self-importance, but then again, all his flaws got called out on. This is a story about how our own selfishness and egocentric behaviour can drastically affect those around us – and Nicholas is forced to confront his own shortcomings. I’m not sure if he will really learn from his mistakes, but over the course of the novel he comes a step closer to comprehending that he is not the only player on the stage.

The ending was wholly ambiguous and I made my own conclusion, based on a Disney-fuelled happily ever after.

It is very much a sort of book that will haunt you, and it also makes you not trust anybody or anything they ever say, which is very helpful in everyday life.

My next book is The Meaning of Night, a contemporary Victorian crime thriller, which Maura is cuddling up to below.

A glance at my bookshelves (1)

(Top to bottom – New Spring by Robert Jordan, Die Again by Tess Gerritsen, The Rule by Jack Colman, The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason and The Magus by John Fowles)

We’ve had a little nosy around Casa Katy, and now here for a closer look at the contents of my shelves.

When I was preparing to move out of Windy Farm, my parents’ house (and, I suppose, my “ancestral pile”, given we have lived there for a couple of years now, and before that, my great uncle lived there, and before him, my great grandparents), I realised how many books I have. Well, it wasn’t much of a realisation – I think that had dawned a good long while ago – but it really cemented just how bad my book-hoarding had become. And, most heartbreakingly of all, how few of my weighty tomes I had actually read! I took a systematic approach – or as much as I could, anyway – to my library, and split into piles: those I had read and those I had not. Easy-peasy. I classify, of course, those I have begun as not-reads.

But then came the tricky part. I was going through a phase of mad well-intentioned badly-executed organisation, which meant some books that had been read really should be taken to the second-hand bookshop (the one in Pickering, you know the one! Surely the best example of how a second-hand bookshop really should look) to be enjoyed by others. I had had a bad experience when I took three great Bags-for-Life full of books and got about seven quid in return, but I swallowed my tongue and reminded myself that this is for the greater good: other people can enjoy these books, meet new characters and explore new worlds. Besides, I probably got more per book than the average author gets. So I divvied the read books into: to keep forever and ever or at least a little while longer, in the hope I might re-read (here’s looking at you, Wheel of Time, Robin Hobb, etc.) and to put in a box for a little while and eventually send on a journey to somebody else’s bookshelves.

So I now stand in Casa Katy with a bookshelf (thank the Lord for Ikea) full of juicy tomes (not tomatoes) ripe and ready to be bitten into!

So here is a little glimpse of this Spring/Summer reading list:

A glimpse at my spring/summer reads
A glimpse at my spring/summer reads

Now some of these I have actually already finished. Go me!

In order:

New Spring by Robert Jordan – I finished the Wheel of Time last year, Jordan’s epic fantasy which he sadly passed away before seeing completion, that falling upon the shoulders of Brandon Sanderson, who also wrote one of my favourite books ever, The Final Empire (part of the Mistborn series). New Spring is the prequel that was published in between (books x and y) and details how Moiraine and Lan meet, and how she sets out following the prophecy that the Dragon will ride on the Wheel of Time once again. I really enjoyed the Wheel of Time – it was my second go at reading it, having managed in a previous attempt to get halfway through I think Lord of Chaos before losing myself. With such a lengthy series – fourteen books, come on! – and such a huge landscape to consider, with seemingly limitless characters, machinations, plots, locations and everything else, if you take your eye off the ball for even a second it’s hard to get back in. I’m super excited to read this prequel though, as Moiraine and Lan are some of my favourite characters in the series, and it’s so refreshing to see a female/male partnership that doesn’t end up in a romantic tangle.

Die Again by Tess Gerritsen – this is one of the Rizzoli and Isles books, on which the popular (and now fast approaching the end of its run!) TV series is based. I started off my dad on reading Rizzles; we loved the TV show and the partnership of no-nonsense kick-ass Boston police officer Jane Rizzoli and the Sherlock-esque Chief Medical Examiner Dr Maura Isles. In fact, I loved the characters so much I named my cat after Maura! I’ve not read any of the series but am familiar with various plots (e.g. Hoyt) from the TV programme, but Dad chucked this one at me saying I would like it because a) it doesn’t rely on too much previous information and b) Maura gets a cat in it! So I might give this a go and see how we get on.

The Rule by Jack Colman – I went to Ryedale Book Festival a while ago with Mum, just to scope out the scene and also to try and chat to a couple of local presses. I happened to speak to a very lovely lady who was there on behalf of her son, who had published his first book, The Rule, after winning a competition. All about Vikings, it was dead up my street, but I was also intrigued by this local lad who had gone and done what I spend most of my waking moments dreaming about. I bought his book and finished it earlier this year. Vikings and Anglo-Saxons seem to be all the rage now: whether it’s the Game of Thrones/Lord of the Rings effect, or possibly a desire to look back at the people who played a part in forming our country(ies) and, shock horror, were a lot of them immigrants. But I don’t want to get too political! I enjoyed The Rule – the landscape was sparse and barren, really evoking just why the Vikings (and here the Anglo-Saxon once-upon-a-time scholar in me shudders to use the generic – and incorrect – term) found our island just so irresistible and, dare I say, ripe for the picking. I did find the description on the back very misleading, and as such I was guilty of that classic crime, judging a book by its cover, and found the content and the blurb a bit jarring. I struggled to connect with the lead character, Gunnarr, though I can’t fault his motives, and found the ending particularly heartbreaking.

The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell – from the raiders in the far distant north to raiders raiding our north! For all I want to call him Bernard Cromwell, I’ve been hankering after his books for a while, and so after enjoying the first couple of episodes of The Last Kingdom on TV (and then missing one and subsequently never catching the rest), I got the book for Christmas. Cornwell is an accomplished writer with a longlist as long as, well, a longship, and so here we follow Uhtred son of Uhtred, the Anglo-Saxon ealdorman raised by the Danes. Personally I was just chuffed that I could recall a lot from my old university days! I enjoyed this romp, though it did curious things with the pacing – something I find a little unsettling with George R R Martin. Here great events and shifts for the characters seem to be thrust upon the reader without much warning, and without much change in pace – none of your standard lulls which build up to a great crescendo, and while maybe it is intended to be indicative of the fast-moving ever-changing world of that time, it did cause me a few hiccups. I might read the next one, or I might catch up with the TV series, but it didn’t grab me with an all-consuming fervour to devour the next one.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – please excuse the lack of correct accent marks, I’m being especially lazy. I’ve had this on my bookshelves since forever and have tried it once before, only to be a bit baffled by the content and all the men with very similar names. One sunny afternoon I sat out in my patio and gave it another go, and now I’m powering through the first quarter, and think I might well make it to the end. I’m still bamboozled by all the Jose Antonio Buendia Aureliano Arcadios, but I think I can about tell them apart. This is a curious little book – I say little fondly, for it’s a monster of a story. Very famous and I think massively influential on many other writers, it combines magic realism and fantasy and warfare and family drama all together with some wonderful humour and wit on the part of Garcia Marquez. It definitely reads wonderfully well in a warm dreamy summer’s eve, of which we have very little of over here at Casa Katy (it’s raining as we speak). It’s also reading much better than another I’m on with, not on this list, and that’s the Master and Marguerita. I’m excited to see where this goes, however just as I get invested in a character’s development or a possible partnership or what have you, Garcia Marquez tends to off them or that plot point in increasingly mad ways. Jose Buendia being strapped beneath the old chestnut tree is a strong image I think that will haunt me for a good while, and I’m sure is something many might like to relate to, in these post-referendum times. Argh, I said I wouldn’t get political!

The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason and The Magus by John Fowles – now these two are not yet begun, and I intend to dive into once I’ve wrangled a bit of time. I picked up The Piano Tuner in Waterstones on a whim and haven’t a clue what to expect. John Fowles is known to me as a writer, as I read The French Lieutenant’s Woman when I was 16/17 and it powerfully imprinted on me. I would absolutely recommend that to anyone looking for a fantastic read who isn’t afraid of a bit of period setting, and a bit of critique on a period novel within a novel – jolly bit of inception there. I’m excited about The Magus so if I ever get on with the Jose Antonio Aureliano Arcadios, I will dive into this one.

And that’s our lot! Let me know if you’ve read any of these, if you like them, dislike them, and if you’ve any recommendations! Currently I am poor but I am the proud owner of a Malton Library card, so with luck, I might pick up some weighty tomes in there.

I’m also looking to update my Goodreads account, so look for me on there under Katy Allanby.

Thanks for reading!