Five reasons why your next book should be The Magus

John Fowles’ The Magus is an unusual book – fantasy, science fiction, psychology, erotica, horror-thriller... it’s uncategorisable and fascinating. The story of a bored young man, Nicholas Urfe, on a Greek island, Phraxos, who finds himself embroiled with a mysterious stranger and his coterie, and here’s why you should read it.

1. Be in the club

The Magus is one of those books, like The Catcher in the Rye, The Beach and A Confederacy of Dunces, that makes you feel as if you’re the first person to have discovered it. There is an element of the cult among its fans, who can recall exactly where they were when they read it, and then often recommend reading it in one sitting (preferably at night). It’s a book that invites you to immerse yourself in it.

2. The beauty of the Greek islands

Fowles found the Greek island Phraxos to be, “so beautiful, quiet and empty that it verged on the terrifying." Blinding white light, empty pine forests, blue shuttered implacable villas and the smell of thyme are all so expertly conjured up you yearn to be in a taverna drinking ouzo.

Secret rooms, double identities, eccentric masques, psychoanalysis, sadism... there is an intense, nightmarish quality to the book.

3. Feel young again

Urfe himself, our hero, is a classic novel subject. He is a failing graduate, an unhappy poet, dissatisfied with life and desperately seeking something. His entanglement with the mysterious Conchis (conscious?) and his ‘godgame’ makes him feel what he has longed to feel – ‘special’. This is the magic he was destined for, he feels. As most of us do in our twenties.

4. It leaves you wanting more

Fowles has always resisted demands to confirm the plot; what’s real and what’s not. Some readers initially find the ambiguity frustrating, but then relax into the book and go along with it, placing their own interpretation on the action.

5. Lynchian Eeriness

Secret rooms, double identities, eccentric masques, psychoanalysis, sadism... there is an intense, nightmarish quality to the book that is equal only to a David Lynch film. Some find it chilling, some intriguing, some baffling, but no-one forgets it.

Listen to The Magus, starring Tom Burke, Charles Dance and Hayley Atwell. First broadcast on BBC Radio 4, Sunday 20 March 2016.

More Magus