A long time ago, my sister threw John Fowles across the room.

MAGUS MOVIEOk wait, yes, she was a powerful little Italian – rest in peace, dear Sis – but I don’t mean that she actually  lifted up the man from Lyme Regis and tossed him like a sack of potatoes.  It was his book, The Collector, that took flight in my sister’s family room and smacked against the wall.

Lately, I’ve been feeling the same way about another Fowles’ novel, The Magus (which inspired the 1968 film with Candice Bergen, Anthony Quinn, Michael Caine, and Anna Karina), probably for the same reasons.

The ending.

When I look at the bestsellers lists of the New York Times and other outlets, I realize how far away is the world that celebrated and raved over Fowles’s books and made him wealthy enough to be a writer and only a writer.  Everything on the bestsellers lists today with a few exceptions — Colson Whitehead probably — smells of symmetry and neatly-resolved endings.

But, my beloveds, I must confess to you, and only to you, that I am not writing this post from a lofty pulpit.  I am not some ultra-refined reader who appreciates only the fiction that’s heavy on the meta- and light on happy endings.  Symmetry and resolutions appeal to me, too — I’m not saying I need happy endings, just a resolution that makes sense, even if it’s a tragic one.

I’m sure that some of you reading this feel the same way.

And yet. And yet.

Despite my annoyance with both The Magus and The French Lieutenant’s Woman, I’m turning to Fowles again.  Which book?  The one that fueled my sister’s fury, of course.

I want to give  his work another try, even though I feel, as I turn each page, like a guy in a dark room who knows there are ninjas hiding behind the furniture.

I’ll tell you all about it when I’m done, my friends.  Or after that book hits a living room wall in our house.

Until then, onward.


  1. I’ve read several of Fowles’ books but the only one I kept was Daniel Martin. Haven’t opened it in years, but did, and was once more captivated by his writing. Lines are underlined in the book, and I read those. On the next to last page, Fowles seemed to wrap up some of the pieces from the underlined sentences. The last paragraph is pretty cool and may say something about Fowles and endings:

    “That evening, in Oxford, leaning beside Jane in her kitchen while she cooked supper for them, Dan told her with a suitable irony that at least he had found a last sentence for the novel he was never going to write.”

    There’s another couple of sentences after that, but if I remember rightly, the gift of Fowles was the journey not the ending. The French Lieutenant’s Woman, if I remember rightly, has an awkward, incomplete ending, too.

  2. Excellent post! I’ve recently posted something that marries your frustration when reading. I’ve taken to writing sarcastic notes along the margins….Have a look and see if you agree!!
    Ashley the best,

  3. As always you’re right Janet — and The Magus was definitely a wonderful journey until the end, when I couldn’t help shaking my head. If I appreciate The Collector enough, then I may have to turn to Daniel Martin next. Thanks for mentioning it.

  4. Endings are difficult. I was just having a discussion with a friend about this. It is a stellar story that reaches some satisfying (not to say neatly tied up) end. I hold Joyce’s ending for “The Dead” as one of the most satisfying ever.

    Have you read “The Summer that Melted Everything”? It’s been a long time since I’ve read a novel with such a strange and captivating voice. Quite disturbing.

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