Book Review: ‘The Collector’ by John Fowles

The Collector

Title: The Collector

Author: John Fowles

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Publisher: Vintage Classics; New Edition.

Publication Date: 5th February 2004 (first published 1963)

Paperback: 288 pages.

Stand alone or Series: Stand alone.

Why did I choose to read this book? It was the choice of my Book Club.

Where to read? Due to the sinister nature of the novel I feel staying in a Scottish Castle in winter would make the perfect setting – check out Glenapp Castle!

Refreshments: I didn’t really think about food when reading, I was too disturbed, however, if we’re in Scotland then it should probably be Whisky

Review:

 ‘If she’s with me she will see my good points, she will understand. That was always the idea that she would understand.’

Frederick Clegg is an orphan, withdrawn from society and desperately lonely after a turbulent upbringing involving an alcoholic mother, the death of his father and favourite Uncle and domination of his Aunt. That is until he meets Miranda Grey a confident and beautiful 20yr old art student with whom he becomes obsessed. After winning a sizable chunk of money the seeds of an idea for kidnapping Miranda are sewn and one evening he calmly abducts her with the unwavering belief that she will both understand and learn to love him. 

The two main protagonists take turns in detailing their own points of view. The first section is dedicated to Frederick where, we are given an insight into how his horrific plan develops to the kidnapping. The next section is from Miranda’s point of view, in the format of a diary, and includes a lot of snapshots of dialogue between her and Frederick, who she starts to refer to as ‘Caliban.’ The final section reverts back to Frederick and, without revealing too much, leaves the reader with a chilling aftertaste.  This style of narrative is brilliant for a psychological thriller novel, it paints a picture of both characters mind-sets which is very effective in instigating an emotive reaction and giving greater depth to the situation.

Fowles has created a truly terrifying character in Frederick Clegg and one which will continue to instil fear  even after you’ve finished reading. The way Fowles writes Frederick’s thoughts, in terms of how he justifies things to himself, gives us a deeper insight into a very complex mind. The meticulous planning,  from buying a country house with extensive cellars to the trialling of all possible escape plans,  is both at once fascinating and horrifying. The depth of the description of Miranda’s ‘new home’ enables you to visualize and put yourself in her shoes. At times during Frederick’s accounts I had a physical reaction of repulsion especially during the events when photography occurs, and it was at these points where I felt fear for Miranda.  

It is also through Frederick that Fowles successfully makes the reader completely and utterly frustrated -which isn’t something you always look for in a book but in this case is very effective for the character. Through two events in particular, found in the middle and at the end of the novel, his dithering and predictions of outcomes almost make you want to scream at him, thus effectively placing the reader in the position of Miranda.

Miranda’s diary is a catalogue of musings about why she has been kidnapped as well as the struggle to understand her captor. We are treated to her inner thoughts which vary from using emotional blackmail to sexual advances in order to get to the root of the situation in order to escape. There are continuous extracts of her conversations with Frederick that usually end with rage and vitriol only to boomerang back to needing any kind of human contact no matter how vile. Her repeated ramblings about G.P depict her as someone who is slowly going insane. It shows her constant analysis of life and relationships before the cellar and nearer to the end of the novel these become more and more frequent.  Although Fowles effectively forges an empathy between the reader and Miranda through her more frantic diary entries and underlines the frustrations and  futile attempts to understand Frederick I did find myself slightly bored with this section of the novel.  I feared for Miranda more through the thoughts of Frederick.

This novel was unlike anything I’ve read before and the character of Frederick will certainly leave a lasting memory.  I don’t think there’s been a character that’s made my skin crawl or forced me to talk back (shout!) at a book on so many an occasion – well done Fowles!

Rating: 8.5 out of 10 – genuinely terrifying.

P.S I wouldn’t spoil the book by watching the film but perhaps prepare yourself by a healthy dose of ‘Misery’

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