Fowles' The Magus
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So, callow man-boy gets manipulated by rich man until he reaches some mildly interesting epiphany about his life. As a short story that'd be intriguing. As a long novel, I just reached a point where I felt like, "Ok, just tell me what this is all about," and then "So, that's it?" The novel just didn't manage to hook me with any emotional connection, which is necessary to keep all those plot twists from becoming dull.
Now, I'd say that part of the problem is Nicholas, who's so emotionally flat. I understand that he represents some form of post-WWII ennui, but that alone wouldn't disqualify him. Kerouac's Jack Duluoz displays something similar, except that he actually does something about it. Duluoz is often misguided or self-destructive, but he's actually trying; his struggles are moving, if frustrating. Whereas Nicholas' adventures strike me as ellegantly constructed but utterly artificial, which makes for a novel that seems to sabotage its own arguments for honesty.
So, what am I not getting about this novel? Is it supposed to be ellegant and artificial? Would I get it if I were a 1950's Brit?
For example, I read a fair amount of horror fiction, which has as a frequent devise the plot twist (or surprise ending). I've come to the conclusion that good plot twists are few and far between, and the ones that have seemed most powerful manage to seem both surprising and inevitable.
(If they're not surprising, setting a plot development up as a twist comes off as heavy handed. If the author can't convince you that a twist is inevitable, it can come off as gimmicky or unnecessary. To me, that's the difference between a plot twist that is organic and one that's mechanical.)
Needless to say, I don't think The Magus' plot twists manage to meet both of those criteria. Mostly, there's nothing inevitable about the plot twists. The novel traffics in some unnecessary symbolism about flowers and occultism, but what if his g/f had been named Suzanne? Would Mr. Master Manipulator (Conchis or Fowles, take your pick) just have had to come up with some other overly complicated and contrived set of associations to make us wonder if she might still be alive?