Monday, November 07, 2005

John Fowles (1926-2005)

I am deep into reviewing Anne Rice's Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, but must take moment to note the passing of John Fowles. Here is the Times of London's obituary. Here's an even better one in the Telegraph.

1 comment:

  1. From novelist/blogger Ron Franscell at http://underthenews.blogspot.com ...

    Who knows why an author becomes an author. A tricky wiring of the senses? A quest to recapture some too-brief moment in the distant past? A hubris that allows him to believe he has something worth somebody else's attention? A wan attempt at immortality? Keener-than-normal typing skills?

    I wrote "stories" when I was very young -- snippets, really, without the pretention or self-awareness I now combat. I read voraciously and unwittingly collected a vocabulary that stood me in favor with English teachers. I started working on the school paper when I was 12 and never stopped.

    But it wasn't until college, when I read "The Magus" by John Fowles, that I believed I could write a book. Not because it seemed too damned easy, but because Fowles was alive and because his writing was rich beyond belief. Intensely erotic in its language, incredibly brave in its structure, and utterly asymmetrical in its intellectualism -- it opened a door that had been cracked only a sliver. Here was this Brit who spoke so beautifully and viscerally and poetically when all I knew about British literature to that point was stuffy, overwrought and exceedingly long. And the ending ... inconclusive, atmospheric, an unanswered question. To this day, "The Magus" remains among the two or three books that made my life better, both as a writer and a man.

    Fowles' death Saturday, then, gives me pause. We'd never met, although I had hoped someday to shake his hand and to tell him what his writing meant to me. I spent some time in his old hometown -- Oxford, England -- while doing some international reporting years ago, and I asked about him, but I was discouraged from knocking on his door like a troublesome literary groupie -- which, I suppose, I was. After all, he was a private man and the fact that I had written two novels gave me no unique dispensation to ask him to share a pint at the corner pub and tell me a secret. I'm sorry now that I didn't.

    John Fowles did what a writer must do: He created his alternate, parallel world and invited me in. More than the others whom I admired -- the literally all-American passel of Hemingway, Steinbeck, London and Fitzgerald -- he showed me possibilities I hadn't considered. His later books taught me everything I needed to know about non-linear storytelling, the free-verse that prose could be, and diabolic irony. And more than the rest, he showed me that poetic eroticism and visuality -- not the strength of the Americans either -- wasn't only the country of women writers. But his mystery was no mystery at all; he knew there were no magic beans, no answers, no perfect resolutions, no knowing what comes next, except dying.

    I'll miss Fowles. And I promise: If any young writer ever knocks on my door to tell me he became a writer because of something I wrote, I'll let him take me to the corner pub for a pint. I just won't have any secrets to share. I'll just hand him a copy of "The Magus."

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