Monday, November 07, 2005

Death of the Magus

It has just been announced that the writer John Fowles died on Saturday. He had been ill for some time. He seemed to me to be unique amongst British writers - neither part of a conformist mainstream, or of an avant garde. His books were amongst the most inventive of the 2nd half of the twentieth century. "The Collector" is a masterpiece of unsettling viewpoints, and unreliable narration - a precursor to Brett Easton Ellis and Michel Houllebecq in its fascination with a psychopath. "The French Lieutenant's Woman" is not only his most famous book, but perhaps his most influential - it prefigured the current vogue for historical fiction, but its essentially a modern novel, self aware, and cloaking its historical melodrama with metafictional devices. Even those books that were problematic, (and none of his novels is what you could call straightforward), were worth reading. If "the Magus" seems a little too much of a hippy puzzle, and "Daniel Martin" suffers from a bitter misogyny, it is more because of the difficult subjects that were set. The sense that he was a writer of a previous generation comes from the slight output of his later years; but I've always had a massive admiration for both the conviction and the quality of his work, and with the sense that he wasn't handed his success on a plate, but carved it, painful paragraph by paragraph. He will be deeply missed. (A post script, the BBC, not exactly renowned for either (a) being quick off the mark or (b) the least bit interested in any writers has been at annoyed at bloggers' lack of marking Fowles' passing. So, now I know, nobody does read this stuff I write! For more obituaries go here, and for sound of underfinanced, and overworked cultura l commentators exploding with justified anger at the establishment, go here.) . PPS Everyone's now happy, as far as I can gather - and I've discovered a few shrewd commentators into the bargain here 'n' also here) I've also got Anthony Burgess's 99 Novels somewhere around here, but like Jenny Davidson I can't find it. Andrew Biswell is reading from his new biography of Burgess tomorrow in Manchester coincidentally, so maybe I'll find it by then. I have a horrible feeling its co-habiting with Fowles' "Wormholes" which has also gone AWOL. Oh, for alphabetised shelves.

1 comment:

Adrian Slatcher said...

I've no problem. I was just reporting the debate. You'd complained that no bloggers had marked John Fowles' passing, when I had done so. The BritLitBlogs bloggers appeared to be annoyed at being told what to write and about who. I was just pointing out that some of us do respond to breaking news; which you were wanting to happen. For what its worth, I agree with your assessment of John Fowles. But its interesting that you've started a bit of a debate over literary reputation - and where that now lies. I would say that it lies with the bloggers, not the broadsheets. A recent debate on best-post war British novels saw Mr. Fowles well represented.