The Magazine's review of blogs
By Alan Connor
As the obituaries of author John Fowles come in, he's remembered more by enthusiastic readers rather than by literary critics - and it's largely down to his least favourite novel.
If Lynne Truss were - God forbid - to have her obituaries published tomorrow, you could expect a lively reaction from the blogosphere, and not only if the cause were an impacted colon.
Likewise many higher-brow authors: it's impossible to imagine the passing of a Martin Amis, an Iain Sinclair or a David Mitchell without the appearance of many words on the litblogs.
So why is the death of John Fowles mentioned in the British book blogs with, at most, passing links to the BBC page reporting the news? This is the man, after all, who concocted The Collector and The French Lieutenant's Woman.
Well, the UK litblogs are fewer than you might expect, and no-one tells them what to write about. You're more likely to read a personal response at a time of the author's choosing than you are a dashed-off reaction to breaking news.
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And it's interesting to note that the conversations which Fowles's novels provoked are unlikely to animate a litblogger in the '00s. At the time of The Collector, the questions were: (i) whither the 1960s English novel?, and (ii) can a bestselling paperback have serious literary merit? To which the answers now seem obvious: (i) look and see; and (ii) well, duh.
"It changed my life"
This isn't to say that Fowles's death has passed unnoticed. But it's in the personal weblogs - the diaries and the LiveJournals - that he's being mourned, and one phrase keeps coming up, in many different forms and in many different languages: "it changed my life".
The "it" here is his novel from 1965, revised in 1977 and reissued with a new introduction in 1998, The Magus.
Writers both amateur and professional, and readers both voracious and occasional are recalling the influence - another word that recurs across the blogs - that this sprawling brick of a book had on their writing or their thinking. Some are relating it to the TV series Lost; some to other books and six of them are ritually burning it when they get to the end.
Fowles himself was aware that The Magus had become one of those books that people have intense relationships with, and was nonplussed: "I can see it is very far from being universally well written. I fell into almost every trap awaiting the tyro writer."
Ron Southern, who blogs at The Rat Squeaks, gives as convincing explanation of this as any - that is, it's the very fact that the writer was a tyro that accounts for its appeal:
"I used to think [Fowles] was about the hippest human being on the planet. Looking back on it much later, [I] realized it was because I had been a young man reading a young man's book about a young man's take on the world. Reading along, I thought I was like the magus and was above the fray. I think I've been much more like the victim in the novel. I was and have remained that young man, being manipulated every which way. Watching machinations and illusions... I am still a fool, I guess... But there it is. What can I do?"
Possibly frustrating for a writer, to have the book he was least satisfied with be the one with the greatest appeal, but in the blogs, it's The Magus that folk are continuing to recommend to each other: a cult book that's lost official "cult" status; rarely forced on schoolchildren, but rather read willingly.
And there again, looking at his other legacy in the blogs, also cheering for a writer to see that his non-fiction - his philosophy and literary criticism - is hitting the spot with readers in a way that it generally failed to with the critics.
It's deeply unlikely that the reclusive Fowles spent his twilight years ego-surfing; but if he had, he'd have seen that some of the issues that animated his mind in all those years spent in royalties-luxury are proving more durable than the discussion of his novels.
Long Story Short Pier has collected some of Fowles' thoughts on the difference between visual and textual media and related them to Scott McCloud's writing about comics. Andy at Weblogworld takes the different versions of The Magus as an interesting case of how a creator can maintain control by remixing and Mutato Nomine is reminded of Fowles's fractured narratives when playing Alternative Reality Games.
Between the popularity of his epigrams, the prescience of his postmodernism, and above all The Magus, it's not a bad way to be remembered so far. Good enough, anyway, to make up for some of the less sombre send-offs, like Hashbrown's post Pretentious, Foul-tempered John Fowles Dies, Aged 198. World Finds Some Way to Immediately Move On:
"[The French Lieutenant's Woman], with a young Meryl Streep in the title role, is best known as the first turn in which she babbled her lines in a foreign accent. Streep would not speak normally again until 1999.
Fowles also wrote some other good books."
Bloggers, eh? No respect.