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John Fowles: Daniel Martin

This one didn’t really work as Fowles had become too self-indulgent. Coming as it did on the heels of The French Lieutenant’s Woman (OK, eight years later), critics and readers gave it the benefit of the doubt, looking forward to something better later. But the something better never came and, in hindsight, this book looks increasingly weak compared to Fowles’ first three.

The novel consists of a series of sections that jump backward and forward in the life of Daniel Martin. It starts with his being scared in the War by low-flying German planes and rabbits trapped in the field by reapers. Daniel flees into the woods (this is to tell you that this is a story of a man who is scared). But most the rest of the novel is reminiscences of his Oxford days – his girlfriend Nell (later his wife), her sister Jane and Jane’s future husband, Anthony and the present time, where the Oxford days and people uneasily intertwine with the present. Caroline, Daniel’s daughter, for example, is having an affair with Barney, who almost caught Daniel and Jane having an one-off fling, while Nell is now married to Andrew who was with them when they found a body, while having a picnic on an Oxford canal. The film project Daniel is working on with his current love, Jenny, almost mingles into the plot and the life of Daniel. Yet, somehow all of this and the theme of Daniel’s loss and the inability of most (all?) of the major characters to have a sustained and loving relationship does not gel and we are left dissatisfied and wondering whatever happened to Nicholas Urfe and Sarah Woodruff.

Publishing history

First published 1977 by Jonathan Cape