In this book a young man trying to find his way in life takes a teaching position on a Greek island and gets wrapped up in the intrigue and surrealistic mind games of a mysterious and wealthy man there.
Well written, creative, bizarre. Rich in symbolism, literary reference and insight with lots of twists and turns in the plot. It makes the reader think about personal choice, morality, complicity, forgiveness, retribution, suffering and what is "real".
The book is purposely riddled with lacking explanations, implausibilities and plot holes. This bats the reader back and forth between incredulity and fascination - in effect dragging them through the same process that Nicolas is enduring. It also forces the reader to draw their own conclusions and re-enforces the subtle message throughout that "answers" are the poor mans spirituality, but that a true rise in consciousness comes only through rigorous self-examination. In fact, the ambiguity in this book will no doubt leave many readers feeling unsettled and betrayed - which, if not Fowles' intended purpose is an appropriate effect - Fowles doing to the reader what Conchis does to Nicholas throughout the story.
Although each reader must take from the book their own lesson, to me it was the symbolic story of the path towards enlightenment that mystical traditions in all faiths profess. In Jungian terms (although the author via the "trial" seems to be coming at it more from the angle of ceremonial magic), Conchis represents the SELF and Nicholas the EGO. The SELF, unfettered by man's artificial "morality" does what it is destined to do - mercilessly and systematically breaking the EGO of it's illusions. This process was nicely symbolized again in Conchis' tale of the Norwegian zealot, who nearly blind and seemingly insane has isolated himself on a remote spit of land where he continually waits to "see" God - i.e. the SELF desperately striving to encounter God regardless of the consequences to the spiritually "blind" EGO (our conscious personality).
Overall, a fascinating, multi-layered, highly-symbolic portrayal of the souls journey back to God.