My husband loves psychological thrillers. One of his repeat Christmas gift requests is the Saw box set. The Saw movies come from the Silence of the Lambs genre, and usually depict people that are given a choice between a gruesome, horrible death, and….well….an alternative gruesome, horrible death. “I love that they mess with my head,” he said, when I asked him what the appeal of watching people dig through boxes of razor blades with bare hands was. Suffice it to say the appeal of these movies is completely lost on me, which is why we do not currently own any of them.
Subsequently, the appeal of John Fowles’ 656 page epic The Magus, was also lost on me. Mind games abound in the story of Nicholas Urfe, a middle-class Englishman who ditches his non-committal girlfriend Alison and signs on to teach school on the remote Greek island of Phraxos. That’s apparently not all he’s signed up for. Nosing around on the island, he has the misfortune to meet Conchis, a rich and psychic recluse. Strange things happen whenever Nicholas spends the weekend at Conchis’ house. Conchis tells stories that are ostensibly about his own life, and then portions of the stories are brought to life by the people that live and work for him. Unlike the rest of us, who would run like hell if we saw someone walking around wearing a jackal head, something keeps pulling Nicholas back to Conchis’ house. One of those somethings is the elusive and beautiful Julie, one of Conchis’ friends and the biggest tease of them all. As the story progresses, the lines between fact and fiction become blurrier and blurrier, and Nicholas becomes lost in the bizarre world Conchis has created for him. Does he ever escape? How will this experience change his life?
Honestly? I was pretty much done by page fifty. I sat through Conchis' meandering 20-page stories, only to find out five pages later that they're all lies, and then five more pages later, find out that even the lies are lies. Ad nauseum. By the end of the book I no longer knew who the bad guys were, or who the good guys were, or if there were any good guys, for that matter. Who do you root for when everyone is screwed up? It turns out by the end of the book that Conchis has woven this surrealistic world specifically for Nicholas to teach him a lesson about the kind of person he is, and everyone in Nicholas’ life has been in on the game BUT Nicholas. I couldn’t help feeling a certain kind of pity for him by the end…but then again, he was kind of a dirtbag. I know a couple of guys from my high school days who would be GREAT candidates to go through this, if Conchis is still out there and needs new people :)
So in the end? Not my thing. Kind of like the Saw movies, but without the razor blades. It didn't work well for me as a novel, but it works awesome as a doorstop in the house on a windy day.