The Enigma by John Fowles

The Enigma by John Fowles

As the title itself suggests, The Enigma by John Fowles is a short story that is surrounded by mystery.
 I have never read anything by John Fowles before and was interested to see what type of short story writer he is. The Enigma is a modernist short story and revolves around a missing man who is of importance in society – he is a Member of Parliament – he’s rich, he’s got a stable family, and loves spending time in the countryside.

The first paragraph of this story tells us what the most common type of person to go missing is and lays the foundations of how abnormal it is for John Fielding to go missing.

Throughout the first part of the story, it is written like a case file where we are told the last time that he was seen, where he was supposed to be and the last person to see him. We are also given a list of characters and we as the reader play the game of ‘whodunnit’ for a few pages.

For the second part of the story, we read from the perspective of Mrs Fielding and are thrown into the chaos that she experiences whilst trying to ring everyone who may have had contact with her husband the day he went missing. Amongst this chaos, we are introduced to a young detective called Jennings, who then becomes the voice for the third and final part of the story.

As the investigation into Mr Fielding’s disappearance becomes to a dead end, the case is given to Jennings – a young officer who is just starting out in the field. He is determined to close the case and works on every lead that there is.

The Enigma is such an interesting read because we get to experience the missing person case from different perspectives throughout the different stages of a police case. We get to have a feel of a few different characters and this means that we can play our own guessing game.

I found the perspective of Jennings to be very interesting as – coming from a long line of police officers – he felt as if he had something to prove and that this case could be his winning ticket.


“Nothing is real. All is fiction. Somewhere there’s someone writing us, we’re not real. He or she decides who we are, what we do, all about us.”
– John Fowles, The Enigma

The most interesting part of this story is the ending. Jennings is questioning Isobel Dodgson and Fowles – through Isobel – makes a very interesting point of that the detective has to think about the case as a work of fiction in a mystery novel (see what Fowles is doing here?) and you have to question each character like you would if you were reading a story about them. Isobel then provides a ‘hypothetical’ storyline as to what could have happened to Mr. Fielding.

Whilst you’re reading it, it seems as if this ‘hypothetical’ reason is what actually happened but we are told to think of it as a piece of fiction – a metaphysical world is being created within a fictional world and through that metafictional world, John Fowles is showing us as the reader the conventional ways of a detective story and the detective genre as a whole.

As good as the ending was in an ‘it-was-well-written’ sense, it was also a slight let-down. I felt the ending didn’t do the story justice and didn’t seem to fulfill me as a reader. However, it was still an amazing read and I thoroughly recommend it.



Side Note: This is a very good short story if you’re looking for a quick, detective read. Like To Room Nineteen, I read this story in my anthology of The Penguin Book of Modern British Short Stories (edited by Malcolm Bradbury).

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