It's literature - but is it good for me?


Recently, I decided that I needed to put aside my kindle for a while, with its beguiling temptations of frothy, easily digested psychological thrillers and the like, in order to read something more challenging. More fulfilling. And, in the case of The Magus, just plain longer than most authors would get away with nowadays. John Fowles came to mind as my first brain-stretching author, partly because a colleague of mine had been teaching The Collector as part of the IB sixth form course and that reminded me of Fowles, a writer one could be excused for not thinking about from one year to the next.

For most people (of my age, anyway!), the mere sound of Fowles's name brings one thought immediately springing to mind - the 1981 film of The French Lieutenant's Woman, with Meryl Streep giving the Scottish Widows lady a run for her money in her hooded black cape and Lyme Regis's Cobb taking on the importance of a major character. Adapted by Harold Pinter, directed by Karel Reisz and with Jeremy Irons taking the male lead as Streep's counterpart, this film is a quality production and brought much attention to Fowles's work. People I knew were mad for him, reading anything and everything he had written, including The Magus. Or rather I should say that people I knew CLAIMED to be mad for him and to be reading everything he had written, including The Magus. I, personally, didn't bother. One look at the house brick size of the tome put me off.

But, time passes, one gets older, and a new wisdom descends. Or rather, one realises that one needs to cling on to any vestiges of wisdom and intelligence one ever possessed and frantically try to replace all that's been lost before it's too late. Hence my reading of the The Magus. It's taken many laborious weeks of reading five or six pages every night before sleeping - and then re-reading most of them the next evening when I realise that I haven't taken in a word and haven't got the slightest clue what is going on. Now I'm very, very nearly at the end - just a few pages away - and I'd love to say it's opened up a new world of understanding and insight. But I'm not sure it has. I'm not even sure what it's really about. This is my best guess: protagonist Nicholas Urfe represents mankind, and Conchis, the man who he meets in Greece when he goes to teach in a boys' school there, is a kind of anti-god, someone who, through his machinations and manipulations of Urfe, reveals that there is no real, all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful God. That's my best guess.

One of the things that's most noticeable about the book is how dated much of it seems, even though it was only written in the 60s. I found it disturbing how quickly Urfe resorted to raising his hand to the women he's involved in. I'm not sure if Fowles has him doing this to reveal the wrongness of it, or just because that's what men in the 60s did if a woman really annoyed and aggravated them. It sits uneasily now, in 2017; Urfe is selfish and self-centred and his actions made us dislike him even more but there's no sign of an authorial comment on it.

Anyway, I'm going to press on - The Collector next! After that, I'll start on Kazuo Isiguro. I did read The Remains of the Day years ago, and see the film, but frankly can't remember anything much about either of them apart from there's a butler. The Nobel Prize statement - something about showing us the abyss - isn't exactly the kind of blurb that is guaranteed to garner a mass audience. But I'm up for it. At least the books look half the size of The Magus.

I didn't realise until I became an author myself that Christmas books were a Thing. I honestly had no idea. Now, I feel part of a very small authorly gang in that I don't write books of this genre. I honestly have nothing but respect for those who read them and even more so for those who write them as I personally can't think of more than about two pages I could possibly come up with centred around a time of year I find, quite frankly, tedious. I'm just a rotten, un-rehabilitated old Scrooge whose heart Tiny Tim has yet to touch. And on top of it all, I just don't get Christmas books. There, I've said it and I'm sorry but as the saying goes, the truth sets you free. If anyone can suggest a Christmas book to me that would change my mind, I'll happily give it a go. But it'll have to join the queue behind the above already listed reading, so that means I'd probably be reading it around mid-summer. On reflection, perhaps that would be a good time for someone like me to read a Christmas book, when the real horror of all the shopping and cooking and socialising and nauseating general gaiety is as far away as it can be in any one year.

And with that - a genuine Happy Christmas to you all. I'll be back on my blog in the New Year. Meanwhile, I'll be found shopping, cooking, socialising and partaking in nauseating general gaiety... there's just no way out of it!

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