Narrated in the first person by Nicholas Urfe, a cynical Oxford graduate who has drifted into teaching, the novel proceeds from bohemian London to the mysterious island of Phraxos off the coast of Greece. There Nicholas’ quest for foreign adventure lands him in the clutches of the enigmatic Maurice Conchis. The magus or sorcerer of the title, Conchis is an alleged erstwhile Nazi collaborator who stages a series of unorthodox “encounters” ostensibly, yet inexplicably, aimed at awakening Urfe’s true feelings.
Unable to fall in love, or even to sustain more than the most fleeting romantic attachment, Nicholas has chosen Greece over a recent involvement with Alison Kelly, an attractive yet vulnerable Australian seeking work as an airline hostess. Fleeing Alison, yet unable to break with her completely, Nicholas is still searching for true love. Having willed himself to fall in love with a young woman whom he has glimpsed on Conchis’ property, he is vulnerable to the psychodrama that Conchis has prepared for him. This drama is replete with costumed actors and vertiginous plot twists that at times parallel the true (or invented) facts of Conchis’ own life.
Thwarted, frustrated, even maddened by the tricks continually being played upon him by the mysterious mastermind Conchis, Nicholas loses his teaching job on Phraxos and begins to play detective, trying to strip away the masks of the people he has met there. Only toward the end of his...
(The entire section is 503 words.)