The Ebony Tower, Paperback
3.5 out of 5 (1 rating)


"The Ebony Tower" is a series of novellas, rich in imagery, exploring the nature of art.

In the title story, a journalist visiting a celebrated but reclusive painter is intrigued by the elderly artist's relationship with two beautiful young women.

John Fowles reputation as a master storyteller was further advanced by this collection, which echoed themes and preoccupations from his other books.




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This is a collection of four inventive stories, one of which is a translation of a madieval French ballad called "Eliduc", and one kind-of misfire built around its own little fairytale. Fowles indulges in light versions of his typical existentialist poststructuralism,unsettling the text for ultimately moral rather thanartisic reasons, but if you're sympathetic to his project like I am it works. And certainly it entertains, and touches the heart. Perhaps in my current straits I was expecting too much from a series of stories in which noble but hapless protagonists leave their lives, which range from mostly worthless to beautiful and fulfilling, to enter enchanted realms, in one case scary and unpleasantly social-realist (although I'm really beginning to appreciate that dash of cold water in retrospect, in a book where literally every other character uses "one" so liberally, not only to mean "myself or someone of my social milieu", as in "Well of course one has friends with places abroad", but also simply to mean "me, explicitly", like "one does have two daughters as well." Fowles is the one with the cred in this case, of course, but till now I've only encountered the latter usage as parody in Gail Simone comics).<br>In the other stories, though, the worlds entered are enchanting and sexy, and the struggle between two kinds of joy and figuring out which is ephemeral, and how ephemeral, is a perennially good study for the human male. But Fowles just . . . I don't know, creeps it up with all this "gigantic (enervated) melancholies and gigantic (troglodytic) mirths of the middle-class English iconoclast" stuff. Sub-DH Lawrence, painfully, awkwardly unrepressed and gropily sexual, no doubt coming across as erotic tiger sharks in their milieu of foxhunty reserve, where the number one rule is "repress not express" - but to the reader in 2009, or even 1980 you'd expect, the endlessly, idiotically available female bits ("o' nice") in the service of overcoming male samurai repression is just so weirdly cryptoporny . . . like, David is driving up to the secluded country house, and you're all "okay, where are the exotic, free and brown, but still properly English girls, and when are they going to come out and get naked and be made faint by his potency?" And then when he arrives they're already naked. <br>I mean, this stuff was probably needed in the mid-'60s when <i>The Magus</i> was published, and certainly you can't fault Fowles for getting caught up in the spirit of the times. But it has not aged well, and if <i>Mantissa</i> was the author in self-parody and well aware of his past and rep, this appears to be self-parody unintentional and unaware. And it makes you think that the Summer-of-Love era could never have been as good as you (I) always want to imagine it was - that all that sex could not have been all that freeing if it was practiced on these unequal terms. And then you think of your students the other day, giggling away at the rape imagery in "Goblin Market" (which gets almost "take it, bitch" at times, and is an amazing work, thank you Mrs. Rossetti), and you think, Wow, maybe it's just in the nature of gender relations that free love can never be equal and love between equals can never be free.

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