Second Thoughts: Faith in extra bottles: John Fowles recalls the first publication of The Aristos (Picador, pounds 5.99)

IF I WERE career-conscious The Aristos ought never to have been published, and least of all with that misleading title. It really came out simply because of its writer's obstinacy, a display of his phobias over publishing and the literary world in general. I use the word phobia advisedly. I am now just about old enough to realise that I am an odd person; in botanical or gardening terms, a sort of sport - a term defined by the dictionary as 'an animal or plant that differs conspicuously from other organisms of the same species'. Certainly The Aristos was published a little bit against the tacit advice of both my publisher and my agent - Tom Maschler at Cape and Anthony Sheil.

The Aristos was fatally stained and strained by my long affaire with French culture. It was only too obviously written under the apophthegmatical aura of Pascal, La Rochefoucauld, Chamfort and the rest from across the Channel . . . meant to be pithy but only too often sounding distinctly un-English and sententious. I see now that, despite several revisions, it remains one of those mysterious wines that somehow don't travel. I can recall tasting such exquisite creatures in remote France in the past and eagerly buying extra bottles to bring home - where I can wonder at leisure whatever possessed me to fall in love with them.

Nevertheless the book has maintained a sort of life, perhaps mainly because it is so obviously not a professional philosophical work. I did want to say what I felt about this weird situation I found myself in (they call it life); to try to explain it, or articulate some of its mysteries, as clearly as possible. Someone the other day wrote and asked whether I still hold by the views I expressed then. I wrote back that in general I did. Novelists always wish they could change how they once expressed views; yet may still hold them.

I am still an atheist, still a socialist of sorts - at least almost always on the left, and would still keep to the no doubt naive route I trod through the quagmire of metaphysics. My correspondent (American, needless to say) was surprised. I suspect he assumed that all decent modern writers must change their minds at least once every decade.

The one thing I will unreservedly praise over the new Picador edition is the cover they have used. It shows an ammonite from this Dorset coast where I live. I love the spiralling (galaxies in microcosm) shape of the ammonite.

I have an idea the guru of my youth, Heraclitus, would have liked it also. He would have recognised such a poetic summation of life . . . so endlessly complex, so breathtakingly simple.

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