This is an easy book to bounce off: the first-person main character, Nicholas Urfe, is intensely dislikable, and there's a lot of portentous speechifying about freedom, love, and truth. But it's compellingly written, I kept coming back to it, and I'm glad I stuck it out. In defence: first, Fowles makes Urfe a self-absorbed little shit on purpose; the point is that he is a self-absorbed little shit, and that we need to understand how and why, and to recognise a bit of ourselves in him. Second, The Magus is an attempt at an ethics of self-development, and that needs an ethically-backward character to start with. The game played on Urfe, as I read it, is an attempt to make him better: both to heal what's wrong with him, and to remake him as less selfish, cowardly, and ignorant about people, especially himself. The means used in that remaking bring up a problem I've also written about*: what if the best way to cultivate free people is violation of their freedom? What if the childhood which reliably makes self-motivated and self-commanding adults is one of parental tyranny, as for John Stuart Mill or Edmund Gosse?
Shorter me: I can see why lots of people find this and other Fowles novels annoying, but it might have been written specially for me.
* Samuel Clark, 'Kicking Against the Pricks: Anarchist Perfectionism & the Conditions of Independence' in Benjamin Franks & Matthew Wilson eds, Anarchism & Moral Philosophy (Palgrave 2010).