The Collector – John Fowles (Book Review)

Classics are often described as being timeless. Although I personally don’t think that everything old is gold, I did find The Collector to be one of those classics which kind of deserve the tag of being one. The book was first published in the year 1963, and is the first novel by English author John Fowles. It is considered to be a trendsetter in the genre, and since I am a sucker for psychological thrillers, I’d added this book to my wish list, where it had been sitting for about 2 years before I finally decided to order it.

The story is about a lonely and miserable moth-collector named Frederick Clegg and his obsession with a beautiful art student called Miranda Grey. After winning a good sum of money in the pools, Frederick decides to take his obsession with Miranda to the next level by buying an isolated house in the country, for the purpose of kidnapping and keeping Miranda there with him, forever. He believes if Miranda truly gets to know and understand him, they can live together happily, away from the rest of the world.

He tries to achieve this by being extremely generous and well-behaved in front of her. Unlike a typical psychopath, he never intentionally hurts his captive, because he wholeheartedly believes that what he feels for her is true love. And that gradually, she will come around to understand this and reciprocate his feelings. He fulfills all of Miranda’s materialistic demands, by buying whatever she likes, but all the while keeps her captive, and under his control, in the cellar. Miranda of course, refuses to see him as anything else but her kidnapper. There are times when she is civil to him, going as far as trying to be intimate with him just to convince him to release her, but ultimately she ends up hating him more because of his cold and inexpressive nature.

The story is told from Frederick’s point of view first, and then somewhat repeated through a diary that Miranda keeps while being held captive. While I found Frederick’s account to be engaging, Miranda’s version and her thoughts during her ordeal were muddled and often tedious. Although the entire novel only focuses on these two characters, there are a few other characters that we get to know about through Frederick and Miranda.

One of the biggest USPs of this book is the dynamic between the two characters. They are so opposite of each other in everything they see and believe that they never get along well despite trying hard to do so. Where Frederick is conservative and single-minded, Miranda is curious and sees endless possibilities in every aspect of life. Their interactions tend to get repetitive at times, but the author managed to keep me hooked with his simple yet riveting writing. It is fast-paced and clever enough to keep the reader guessing about the climax. I found the book hard to put down.

The Collector was both addictive and exasperating at the same time. I wanted to truly hate Frederick for what he had done, but I found it difficult to do so. This was probably because since this book was written, we’ve had such vicious and vile madmen in literature as well as pop culture that Frederick’s somewhat docile behavior towards Miranda caught me off-guard. Although a true psychopath, he never fully and openly expresses that nature throughout the book, except towards the end. On the other hand while Miranda is the actual victim of the story, she displays considerable control over her captor for most part of the book. She’s not a typical damsel in distress casualty, and manages to make Frederick suffer in various ways. This sort of role reversal was effective in making me confused about who I should sympathize more with.

I’d recommend The Collector to anyone who enjoys clean and believable psychological dramas. It does not have any gore or excessive violence that is often associated with stories involving a psychopath. But rather focuses on the human interaction between two very interesting characters. I can totally see why it went on to become a classic.

My Ratings for The Collector – 4/5

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