Title: The Collector
Author: John Fowles
Genre: Fiction/Classics/Psychological Thriller
POV: First person – dual
Published: May 1963
Frederick Clegg is a simple man who led a lonely life. Working as a town clerk, Frederick tries to make friends, but his oddities prevent any real connections. Self-conscience about his social class and education, Frederick believes his luck will change now that he’s won the pools. With his winnings, he finds the monetary means and fortification to execute his dream of securing a companion – a beautiful young woman he’s admired for years, but rather than woo her, Frederick plans her capture.
“All right, you think I’m not normal keeping you here like this. Perhaps I’m not. But I can tell you there’d be a blooming lot more of this if more people had the money and the time to do it.”
Miranda Grey is a vibrant twenty year-old art student from an affluent middle class family. Her life seems to be bright and full of potential until she encounters Frederick. Waking bound and gagged in a cellar, her life drastically changes. To her credit, Miranda is determined to take steps necessary to survive.
“I must fight with my weapons. Not his. Not selfishness and brutality and shame and resentment.”
Told in four parts, the book begins in Frederick’s POV where he explains his thoughts and justifications for his actions. Quickly, it becomes clear that Frederick isn’t treated well by many, even Miranda issues demands to him, and this causes a bit of a sympathetic view. However, his need to keep Miranda overrides any sense of morals as he provides everything she wants given she remains his possession.
“Don’t look like that,” she said. “What I fear in you is something you don’t know is in you.”
With a shift to Miranda’s perspective, the tone dramatically changes and creates an alternate view of her belief system, hopes, and how she tries to survive captivity. At first, she seems snobbish and demanding, and in some ways she is, but she is resolute about doing what she must to ultimately escape. Reading about her coping mechanisms is compelling, along with her ideas of beauty, love, violence and art which make broader statements about the state of society at that time yet still relevant today.
The way Frederick treats Miranda is perverse in certain ways, being a butterfly collector by hobby, she becomes his prized aberrational specimen. Though he believes he wants unconditional acceptance, it becomes clear what Frederick wants. Additionally, his own behavior is contradictory in that he has become what he’s always looked upon with disdain. Ultimately, the truth about Frederick is revealed leaving a lasting impression.
In this novel, the dynamic between captor and captive is deeply complex. While misguided love seems to be Frederick’s motivation, obsessive qualities soon appear. The dichotomy between creating worlds to justify reality was also fascinating and the author used these elements with exacting precision. And, the character references to The Tempest are skillfully apt.
The Collector is a book that resonates long after reading the last word. A psychological thriller in genre, and perhaps one of the earliest of its kind, it delves into the minds of its characters and offers brutal honesty even when the reader is hoping for an alternative reality. I highly recommend!