Switching gears from last week’s comedy, this week’s rec is a book that, if I were to describe it in one word, I’d say is unsettling. We’re talking John Fowles’ The Collector.
Published in 1963 as Fowles’ debut novel, The Collector tells the story of Frederick Clegg, a lonely, psychotic man who, after winning a large sum of money, buys a house in the countryside and kidnaps the object of his obsession, art student Miranda, locking her in the cellar.
The novel is split into three parts, with the first showing the story from Frederick’s point of view, the second from Miranda’s (her part being written as letters/journal entries), and the final returning to Frederick. I found it interesting and a lot more engaging to consume the story from both sides, essentially experiencing it in two different ways. Both characters allow the reader inside their minds, showing their way of thinking, their reasoning for their actions, and their feelings throughout. Witnessing both like this makes it for a far more emotionally-heavy read as you can’t help but feel frustration at Frederick’s flawed mind but empathize with his loneliness, and of course, root for Miranda to escape and figure out how to handle Frederick.
The writing styles themselves change depending on the characters, solidifying their unique voices. At first I found it frustrating to read Frederick’s jumbled thoughts that seemed to keep going with no end, scattered words on a page, erratic and full of mania, but I soon grew fascinated by how he perceives the world and how he expresses himself. He is firmly convinced there is absolutely nothing wrong with kidnapping Miranda and forcing her to live in his cellar, a human counterpart to his butterfly collection, a pretty thing he wants to keep for himself. To me, he actually appeared to want to be pitied, for being lonely and misunderstood and not as fancy as Miranda’s circle of friends. Perhaps in a different instance, he would’ve been easy to sympathize with, and would’ve been the one to root for, had he not also been a twisted, damaged creep.
I have to admit, although Miranda’s side is fascinating because of the tension – especially as Frederick’s first part ends with a very tense moment – I found her constant mention of GP a bit annoying. Understandably, she’d latch onto her life outside, and the one relationship she felt had shaped her and had given her the tools to navigate life maturely, but to me GP is more of an idea than a person, and it doesn’t really help the reader be interested in him, and therefore his relationship with Miranda. With that said, navigating a story we already know from Frederick but now through the eyes of Miranda is incredibly interesting because of the added feeling of anticipation (when will she get to the part where x happens? What are her thoughts on what happened then? How does she see the things that Frederick thinks are y? What makes her decide to do z at that time?), and the emotions are a lot more heightened once we are made to align with the victim. There’s a lot more stress involved, a lot more fear and hopelessness, and the detachment and emptiness of part 1 completely disappears.
The psychology of the book is incredibly captivating, not just because of the characters’ lines of thinking but because of what the readers are made to think as well. We’re in the unique position of being able to understand and analyze both sides and what the situation means to them and form our own thoughts about what’s going on, making reading the book a lot more interactive.
We are given enough details about Frederick’s home life and relationships to sort of understand his loneliness and issues, but not enough to ever justify what he ends up doing. Still, it’s enough to make him a well-fleshed out character that isn’t completely One Thing, which makes reading his parts enjoyable even though what he’s saying and doing is awful. Similarly, Miranda is as strong as she is gentle, she’s smart but sometimes childish, she is cultured and loves art and living through art. The way she perceives art is especially interesting to a fellow artist, and her frustration at Frederick for not understanding what she means is a very obvious way to show they will never see things the same way, they’re from completely different worlds, they are completely incompatible, and their respective wishes (Miranda to fall in love and remain there vs Frederick seeing his wrongs and releasing Miranda) will always be impossible to come true.
The evolution of Frederick and Miranda’s interactions is such an exciting, but troubling thing to witness, as you can’t help but hope Miranda can find the key to making Frederick see he’s in the wrong and let her go. Perhaps it’s a silly idea though, but the anticipation of a somewhat success is there right up to the end. All her attempts to escape, all her strategies and approaches are admirable, and as a reader there’s a moment you think “surely NOW he can at least let her go,” and I think it’s that inability to truly understand Frederick’s deranged mind what makes the ending so effective. Without spoiling too much, the ending is something SO obvious that I regret I didn’t see coming (perhaps because I was so invested in what was happening in the present that I didn’t think of the future), but it tells everything it needs to about Frederick, Miranda, and the entire story. The clue is in the name, after all.
Perhaps this would’ve worked better as a recommendation earlier on, when readers could sympathize even more with being captive, trapped in the same place for months on end (albeit, we quarantined for our safety, not because a psycho wanted to collect us like butterflies), but even now, I feel this is a great book to read for a glimpse into a sick mind but also the mind of the tormented.
I realize I didn’t exactly say much with this rec, but I think reading for yourself and allowing yourself to become immersed in the story with as little details as possible will make the experience a lot more enjoyable (or eerie and creepy and horrible, but in a good, safe way).
A little fun (creepy) fact to close off this week’s rec: real life serial killers have been inspired by this book or were found to have it in their possession. Yikes.
As always, thank you so much for reading, and see you again next week!