#244 A Maggot

I’d never heard of John Fowles when I picked up this book (although I have heard of the French Lieutenant’s woman… but wasn’t aware who’d written it) and its title neither piqued my interest nor deterred it: A Maggot is quite ambivalent (although not exactly pleasant) – even more so when Fowles explains in the prologue that he is using it in the sense of a quirk or whim. The opening of the novel equally didn’t immediately strike me as endearing or discouraging – we are introduced to five travellers traversing the countryside as if from a great distance: the band introduced collectively from afar before each member of the group is described individually. I didn’t especially like the way the characters were held at arm’s length so to speak, but I can now in hindsight see why he did it; as it’s difficult to initially attach yourself to any one character.
After following the group on their journey for a few days (and it seems no ordinary journey – although I couldn’t quite make out what its purpose was) the narrative switches: one of the band has been found hanged and another disappeared, and it is to the lawyer Henry Ayscough to determine what exactly has happened (and us with him). A lot of what follows is his questioning of the other travellers, as he uncovers them, or others who may be of worth to the investigation and gradually the story unravels. I will admit that while at the beginning I wasn’t especially enthralled (but didn’t have much choice – I had a Phillip Roth book with me this week as well but I’m not his biggest fan either) the investigation did intrigue me and keep me wanting to read on – although not desperately.
I find that older books (pre 19th century) can be a bit hit and miss in terms of captivating my interest – not all but some (I find myself pleasantly surprised if they’re better than average whereas with anything from 2000 onwards I am crushingly disappointed if it fails to engage – to be fair I think my expectations are such that I’m more often pleased with an older book than with a new one) so this was an odd mix: a 20th century novel written in the style of one much older and sometimes it does show through. It was an odd kind of story, not sure whether I’d recommend it and I’m still undecided on my overall impression but I am impressed that I read to the end so quickly and the amount to which it did keep me interested (which I must emphasise wasn’t incredible, but more than I’d thought it would when I started reading).

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