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The Collector (Back Bay Books)

The Collector - John Fowles

I spent a lot of time thinking about the two main characters in this novel, what they did, what they could have done differently, what made them tick and what greater meaning they might have. I read so few books that make me think about anything other than what the publisher might have been thinking. Reading “The Collector” was a rare treat.


The first part is told from the kidnapper’s point of view. He manages to be both delusional (“She’ll realize how lovable I am once I have smothered her with chloroform and trapped her in a cellar with me.”) and unimaginative (“This plan is foolproof!”). Unfortunately, he fails to realize that an inclination to impose your will on someone else (e.g., by chloroforming and holding them captive) is a character flaw that’s a little hard for most women to overcome. And it’s not the only flaw he has. Creeepy.


The second part retells the first from Miranda’s point of view, through the secret journal she’s keeping in her captivity. It depicts the confusion and angst of an idealistic 20-year-old held prisoner by an inscrutable stranger, her fears and regrets, and how she struggles to maintain her humanity throughout. Through the eyes of her captor, she’s a specimen, strange and equally inscrutable, but her journal brings her to life and makes her real and individual. I found Miranda hugely sympathetic, even in (and maybe even because of) her rejection of the values of the indolent middle class and their intellectual torpor. She’s young and passionate and still figuring out the world and her place in it. She’s wrestling with issues and ideas I still find challenging at nearly twice her age, and I respect her for that.


Here's the real spoiler part, which was easier to hide in GoodReads: What I can’t decide is whether Clegg’s decision to keep Miranda’s journal is an act of redemption (albeit inadequate) or perversion—or just one more staged act of contrition and morality he ultimately will not follow through on, burning or burying it the first time he gets a little spooked. I think I’m leaning toward perversion, that it’s a trophy representing what he ultimately couldn’t control: her mind, thoughts, and will. For him, it likely reinforces that she wasn’t to be trusted, he’d had no choice in anything he did or didn’t do, et cetera. Again, creeepy.