Monday, November 07, 2005

Author John Fowles is dead

There are many reasons why novelists write,
but they all have one thing in common --
a need to create an alternative world."
Author John Fowles


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."


We all write poems;
it is simply that poets are the ones
who write in words
John Fowles


Lushy said...

Thank you so much for leaving this comment for me. The Magus was a book that I stumbled across, purchased and could not put down. I finished it within a day and began re-reading it after two days. The story stayed with me, mesmerized me and I was perfectly happy and content when I was lost in the story.

Anyone who loved Mr. Fowles' writing will be as moved as I am by your beautiful eulogy.

Adam said...

I would also like to thank you for your comment on my blog. An enlightening and deeply beautiful reflection on John Fowles.

Irina Tsukerman said...

Thank you for your comment on my blog... You've said everything I thought about and more. Each of John Fowles' books is a world in itself... I cannot say that I have a favorite, as each of them have moved me and provoked much thought in me as few other novels did.

Prof. Kienstra said...

and indeed i join the row.. thank you for leaving your comment on my blog.. who know's i'll ever become inspired by one of your books and take you up on your offer of a pint...

Paul Watson said...

This is becoming a yes-blog but I too would like to thank you for your comment on mine. A finer eulogy I have not read in the main stream media.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this comment. I'm from Russia and I read "Magus" at 1993 when I entered the university. There were 3 days and nights when I wasn't able to leave the book. It's the same Lushy has already said.

Fowles became my favourite writer and that's all we may - to read him and thank you for the best words about him.