On Fowles’s “The Collector”

16 May

imagesJohn Fowles’s debut novel certainly set the bar high. I felt the need to start by reading this book because it seemed to suit me (or suit my obsession with Law & Order: SVU, CSI, and Criminal Minds; a girl can’t have too much crime TV), and I stand by my choice. The Collector follows Frederick Clegg in his project to stalk, kidnap, and woo the object of his affections, Miranda Grey, a young art student of the upper middle class. If Clegg were a young gallant knight or the Earl of Rochester, this story could be romantic, or at the very least, kind of kinky. But Clegg is a loner, a man with little to no social graces who happens to really, really like collecting butterflies, so the story has to go the creepy rout. Fine by me, since Fowles can definitely pull off creepy and pull it off well.

In the first half of the book, the reader is place in Clegg’s head, and learns that our protagonist’s fascination isn’t with sex or any kind of affection that one human normally engenders for another. His is the morbid fascination of a scientist, an amateur entomologist who found the most beautiful variation. He wants to keep her, but as time passes he realizes keeping a living being is quite a bit different from pinning down a dead husk. He learns she isn’t going to cooperate, and the more she struggles against her captor, the more her captor uses force to keep her, and the more he uses force, the more he likes it.

In the second half of the novel, Fowles writes from Miranda’s perspective. She hides a journal in her cell-like basement bedroom and tries her best to stay sane through her writing. She records some of her thoughts of Frederick Clegg (whom she calls Caliban), but mostly ignores him. Instead she focuses on the usual interests of a young woman and artist: love. Or, rather, her crush on an older man.

"I have suffered / With those that I saw suffer!" Miranda, the bleeding heart.

“I have suffered / With those that I saw suffer!” Miranda, the bleeding heart.

Throughout her captivity, Miranda portrays herself as an entitled, spoiled child. Clegg obsesses over her elevated class, her fancy education, her overall superiority over him. Miranda’s attitude toward Clegg/Caliban is that of a burdened mother toward a petulant child. Even while reading passages of Miranda’s journal entries, I can’t help but root for Clegg. Maybe that makes me a bit sociopathic, but Miranda certainly doesn’t make the model damsel in distress, and in that she mirrors Shakespeare’s Miranda: an oblivious child, self-centered and filled with illusion of her own immortality.

By the end of the book, I’m thinking to myself, “I really hope she doesn’t win.” Does this make me a terrible person? But this isn’t the story of good pretty girl versus evil loner man. It’s the story of a young man coming into his own. It’s a story of an awakening sociopath. Frightening and fascinating. And it’s Fowles’s brilliant writing that enables this novel to both frighten and fascinate.

Call me a weirdo, but I was kind of rooting for Clegg. And on another note, when will this be a "Criminal Minds" episode? (From Polyvore)

Call me a weirdo, but I was kind of rooting for Clegg. And on another note, when will this be a “Criminal Minds” episode? (From Polyvore)


3 Responses to “On Fowles’s “The Collector””

  1. FictionFan May 16, 2013 at 10:47 pm #

    Great review! You’ve really made me want to read this… 🙂


  1. Top 10 of 2013 | litbeetle - December 31, 2013

    […] 2. The Collector by John Fowles […]

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