The Collector by John Fowles is creepy, compelling and convincing. I could scarcely put it down.
The story is set in the early 1960’s and the narrator is a socially awkward young English man who is fascinated by a young woman he occasionally sees around his neighbourhood. The young man daydreams about the life he thinks they could have if they were a couple; him looking after his butterfly collection while she admires and respects him. Having her would also enhance his status amongst his fellow butterfly collectors because they would envy him.
When the young man won a large amount of money in the Pools, he quit his job as a clerk and gave the aunt who brought him up enough money to take an extended trip to Australia. Then, he bought himself an isolated cottage with a crypt underneath the house and in what seemed to him to be normal behaviour, the young man, Frederick, turned the crypt into a hidden, locked room.
Frederick then kidnapped the young woman.
Frederick treated Miranda, his captive, as if she were a living butterfly in his collection. He struggled to know or understand her, but he bought her anything she wanted, happy that she was now his. Frederick was hopeful that in time Miranda would come to love him.
I don’t know what this says about me, but during this first part of the story I also wanted Miranda to accept that she was Frederick’s prisoner and stop trying to escape. I wanted her to fall in love with Frederick, and somehow transform him into the person he wanted to be.
About half way through the story, the point of view changes to Miranda, as told to her diary. Miranda is a completely different person to whom Frederick believes her to be. She is only 20 and is a self-obsessed art student who is in turn obsessed with an older and successful artist, GP. Miranda’s diary tell of her attempts to live up to GP’s values and ideals, which to me seemed selfish and pretentious but appeal to the more naïve Miranda. She is almost in love with GP, but is physically unattracted to him and struggles with his history of having been married several times and having had other lovers. Miranda seemed to me to be very much a young woman of her time.
Miranda rarely refers to Frederick in her diary, but when she does, she clearly despises him for his middle-lower class correctness and lack of imagination. As time passes she begins to pity Frederick, who she calls ‘Caliban’.
Of course, after reading Miranda’s version of events, I swapped over to her side and wanted her to be freed from Frederick’s prison to become the person she wanted to be.
The ending of the story didn’t surprise me, but The Collector has left me keen to read more of John Fowles’ work.
The Collector was book one for me in the Classics Club challenge to read 50 classics before my challenge end date of 26 August 2023.