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The Magician is one of Somerset Maughams most complex and perceptive novels. Running through it is the theme of evil, deftly woven into a story as memorable for its action as for its astonishingly vivid characters. In fin de siècle Paris, Arthur and Margaret are engaged to be married. Everyone approves and everyone seems to be enjoying themselvesuntil the sinister and repulsive Oliver Haddo appears.
Arthur Burdon and Dr Porhoet walked in silence. They had lunched at a restaurant in the Boulevard Saint Michel, and were sauntering now in the gardens of the Luxembourg. Dr Porhoet walked with stooping shoulders, his hands behind him. He beheld the scene with the eyes of the many painters who have sought by means of the most charming garden in Paris to express their sense of beauty. The grass was scattered with the fallen leaves, but their wan decay little served to give a touch of nature to the artifice of all besides. The trees were neatly surrounded by bushes, and the bushes by trim beds of flowers. But the trees grew without abandonment, as though conscious of the decorative scheme they helped to form. It was autumn, and some were leafless already. Many of the flowers were withered. The formal garden reminded one of a light woman, no longer young, who sought, with faded finery, with powder and paint, to make a brave show of despair. It had those false, difficult smiles of uneasy gaiety, and the pitiful graces which attempt a fascination that the hurrying years have rendered vain.
Dr Porhoet drew more closely round his fragile body the heavy cloak which even in summer he could not persuade himself to discard. The best part of his life had been spent in Egypt, in the practice of medicine, and the frigid summers of Europe scarcely warmed his blood. His memory flashed for an instant upon those multi–coloured streets of Alexandria; and then, like a homing bird, it flew to the green woods and the storm–beaten coasts of his native Brittany. His brown eyes were veiled with sudden melancholy.
‘Let us wait here for a moment,’ he said.