A Maggot

by John Fowles

Rating: ★★★★

In the bare bones, this is a historical crime story, following the investigation of a wayward son's disappearance, and with the case turning increasingly toward matters of religion, gender, theology and ethics as new details emerge. But Fowles makes it much richer than even that.

For one, his format, with most of the plot delivered as a series of interrogations, pages and pages of questions and answers delivered of witnesses and suspects. A few key scenes are narrated from the viewpoint of a 20th-century mind, but the rest is delivered in grippingly readable dialogue and epistolary.

For another, the period accuracy, in which Fowles is mightily impressive, perhaps more so than any author I know of outside actual historians. He remarks in his epilogue that the actual events he reports are fanciful, even the date he connects to a real person's birth is inaccurate. But the sense of the time is masterfully done, with a wealth of language, specific practice and psychology making his setting come vividly to life. This is not the 18th century as through an idle imagination of it, but a well-researched portrait. Interspersed, snippets from a historical chronicle flesh out the world around the characters pertinent to the investigation, while reflecting subtly on some of the core topics of the novel.

I got this novel second-hand on a whim, and its quality was a pleasant surprise. I am now significantly more endeared of John Fowles, and cautiously optimistic about his more famous works.