John Fowles’ “Mantissa” is a child of its times. Written in 1982 at the peak of popularity for modernist literary theory, deconstruction, Lacan, Foucault, Derrida, it is a novel that attempts to explore the relationship between author and text both in itself and also as the theme for the narrative within the book. In some respects, it is something of a ‘hall of mirrors’ and typically Fowles.
It is also preoccupied with sex. Indeed the first section might easily be read as something of a ‘middle-aged man’s fantasy’, never mind that the use of sex is a legitimate-enough metaphor for the process of writing which climaxes(!) in the character/narrator’s ‘ejaculation’ leading to the production of a narrative – which also happens to be the first words of the story itself… See what I mean about mirrors?
All typical Fowles.
Even though I can’t remember what I thought about “Mantissa” when I first read it, I fear it has not aged well. To a modern sensibility it reads more like cheap fantasy, a little bit of nonsense, of showing off, and – to pursue the theme – of literary masturbation. But maybe that’s just Fowles too.
Having said all of that, there’s a part of me that now wants to go back and re-read “The Magus” or “The Collector”. (I read “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” sitting in a hammock in sierra Leone!)
So what does that make me..!