Tuesday, March 9, 2010

John Fowles - a prelude

I'm currently halfway through Fowles' longest novel Daniel Martin. I've always had this novel sitting on the shelf, or in boxes, and I'd always wanted to read it. It's a huge sprawling novel about an Englishman living in California as a screenwriter who comes back to London to sort out some old family business. Fowles himself said that it was a long novel about Englishness - and if that isn't what I'm really into right now, I don't know what it is. Since the novel is so big, it's going to take me awhile to post the review. In the spirit of trying to keep this blog going almost-daily, I'm going to do brief reviews of all the Fowles novels I've read, arranged by the order in which I read them, rather than chronologically published.

The French Lieutenant's Woman
I was taking a course in university which was arrogantly titled "The Novel". I had to take it if only because of the title's hubris. Suffice it to say that it was one of my favourite courses in university. We read Great Expectations, Middlemarch, Portrait of a Lady, Mrs. Dalloway, and some other great works.During this course, the professor, Sue Sorensen, recommended to me a couple great post-modern novels, considering I was a huge fan of it during that time. This was one of them (Possession being the other). It was from Prof Sorensen that I learned about F. R. Leavis, György Lukács, and proper critical techniques. Anyways, long story short, I adore this novel. I still remember almost all the big scenes and my favourite parts and it's been 6 years since I read it. The combination of post-modern playfulness, comfy 19th century novel, and extremely lucid and clear prose makes this a classic. Still my favourite of all Fowles novels.

The Ebony Tower
This I liked, but I didn't love. It's made up of 5 longish stories. One of them, the eponymous story, is absolutely killer. The others are okay. Fowles' skill at creating a scene with only the barest of descriptions is unmatched. I always know where people are in a room based on only a couple words from him. There's no better example of this than this collection.

The Collector
His first novel published, this is an amazing work of intellectual thriller. Very tense, and very cerebral, just like a good amount of his works. I loved this book, but in terms of theme and craft, this is a minor work. Most entertaining, probably.

A Maggot
Post-modernism at its finest. A novel made up of transcripts of investigative interrogation trying to decipher what happened to a rich man who was found hung in an inn. I can't possibly talk about this novel without spoiling the entire thing. This is a beautiful exercise in narrative experimentation. 

I tried reading The Magus but I loathed it. I may have not been "ready" to read it and appreciate. I will probably give it another go soon. Reading Daniel Martin is the same thing right now. If I had tried it 6 years ago, I would have hated it. Now I can appreciate it. I'm a better reader now than I was in university.

Overall, one can sense a tension with Fowles' collection of novels. They repeat themes and techniques, but no one could possibly say that they're all the same. Each novel attempts something different while using some of the same themes and images. It's such an interest collection taken as a whole. It's not like Dickens, where you can point to similarities and sameness. Each Fowles novel stands alone, and yet works organically together with the others.

I'm a big fan of Fowles, as you can see, but I've never done any academic study on his work, if you can believe it. This is why it so satisfying to read Daniel Martin right now. It fits into where my tastes are at, where my head is at, and even some of the themes are echoing in my life at the moment. Check back here for the review. Thanks for reading.

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