Date finished: December 11th 2015
John Fowles is an author who I’ve come back to after an unsuccessful attempt to read his most famous work, The Magus. Though the novel was beautifully written and engaging, 700 pages of intense mind-games, references to Greek mythology I didn’t, and constant character changes took its toll and I was unable to finish it. I decided to give Fowles a second go and opted for a shorter work of his.
The Collector follows the story of Fred and Miranda. Fred is an odd, insular collector of butterflies who is obsessed with a girl he sees often from his desk at work. He knows little about but is sure that he loves her. One day, he wins the lottery and buys a house for himself. He entertains notions of kidnapping the beautiful girl, building a little room in the basement to lock her away in. This morbid fantasy becomes reality and he does indeed kidnap Miranda, an intelligent and talented young artist. What follows is disturbing and brutal yet – and this is the most interesting part – not sexual, and this is what elevates the novel to a higher psychological plane than your average kidnap thriller.
Fowles’ narrative is in keeping with the traditional sparing, elegant prose of the post-war British writers. The story is first told from the simplistic and confused perspective of Fred whose sudden winnings make it possible to live out the immoral fantasy he’d could’ve only imagined before, then from the intellectual and analytical diary entries of Miranda. Fred’s inability to understand the reality of the situation he has created is disturbing, but it’s Miranda’s conflicted feelings for Fred that showcase Fowles’ talent as a writer as well as hammering home the gravity of the situation. Unfortunately, some of the potential for exploring the interplay between kidnapper and captor is lost in Miranda’s living in her past to escape her reality, but Fowles’ meditations on the way in which the protagonists’ personalities clash and meld is fascinating and thoughtful.
The Collector is a well-executed and unsettling novel which intriguingly explores philosophical differences in class and intelligence between the strata of society, but sometimes the work chokes on its own exposition. It’s an imperfect novel which, though impressive as a debut, is limited in scope and fails to live up to the height of greater classics of the 20th century.