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Friday, March 17, 2017

A Maggot (1985) by John Fowles


Book Review
A Maggot (1985)
by John Fowles


 John Fowles really ticks all the boxes of  post modern fiction with broad commercial appeal.  In A Maggot, he brings his bag of post-modernist tricks and applies them to a faux-historical tale, set in the 18th century.  A Maggot pieces together the circumstances behind a mysterious hanging of a servant in remote Western England (near the Welsh border.)  Fowles explicitly places the events in the 18th century, going so far to include faux news broadsheets in between chapters.   The novel itself largely consists of "legal documents" drawn up during the investigation of the mysterious death that opens the novel.  Of course, this is a method of constructing a novel that did not exist in the 19th century, let alone the 18th century, and any versed reader will immediately recognize the "18th century" sounding dialogue as being closer to what you would find in a 19th century novel.  A casual reader, unfamiliar with the difference between 18th and 19th century in English literature, would of course not notice the difference.

   Without dispensing spoilers, Fowles include plot details which span 18th century gothic fiction, 19th century "supernatural" fiction a la Wilkie Collins and Edgar Allan Poe, and 20th century speculative fiction.  This material is integrated with the aggregated legal documents so that the reader is left to speculate or look up on Wikipedia what actually happens.

  I was dismissive of the challenge that A Maggot presents to a casual reader (as one might reasonably expect to be when reading a John Fowles novel), but the combination of the pieced together, pastiche narrative technique and a layer of symbolic as well as a meta-symbolic level of narrative proved confusing when I tried to read A Maggot during the opening nights of March Madness.   I can't get into what about A Maggot I actually fully missed while reading it without spoiling major plot developments, but it's significant to understanding both the symbolic and meta-symbolic interpretations.

  Do I give a shit that I missed something in a John Fowles novel? No. John Fowles is, above all, a fun author, easy to read.  Maybe complicated to fully understand because of all the meta-fictional asshattery, but easy to read.  A Maggot is NOT easy to read, even if you are comfortable with 18th and 19th century fiction.   You could call it tedious.  There can be not surprise that A Maggot was one of two (out of four) titles dropped in the first revision of the 1001 Books list.  You could make the argument that he only deserves one: The French Lieutenant's Woman or The Magus, pick one.

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