The Collector by John Fowles

The CollectorIn his debut novel in 1963, John Fowles created a classic that will long endure as the best fiction kidnapping ever.  An entire genre has sprung up around the idea of men capturing young women, usually to torture or rape them, certainly keeping them prisoners over a long period of time.  Although the kidnapper usually brings in his own scars, the situation inevitably creates even deeper scars in the poor feminine victim.

Fowles, in the quintessential kidnapping story, disdains both torture and rape by creating a villain who goes far out of his way to ensure the comfort of his victim—and far from raping or torturing, he loves her so much that all he requires is her company.  In fact, the idea of physical intimacy is abhorrent to him.  What he doesn’t realize is that keeping her in a basement with no fresh air or sunshine, with no company, with no radio or television is itself a psychological torture.

The relationship between the abductor and the victim attains an amazing intimacy and poignancy in The Collector that is surprising and shocking, especially for 1963.  And when the victim decides to give the abductor what she thinks he wants—physical intimacy—it catapults the situation from something that was within her control (reasonably) into something far more dangerous that she ever anticipated.

The first part of the novel is told from the point of view of the abductor, Frederick Clegg.  By giving us the voice of this man who sounds oh-so-reasonable, Fowles puts us in the conductor’s chair and we see his loneliness, his inability to relate, his petty hatreds and distrust of society in tones so cool and controlled that we understand what he’s doing and why (not that we ever agree with it, but he does gain our sympathy somewhat, the poor fellow.)

The second part of the book is related in a diary that Miranda Grey, the victim, keeps under the mattress in her tiny cell in the basement of Clegg’s country home outside London.  This is the part of the book that digs deep into the soul.  We experience day after day Miranda’s fears and hopes, her delicate dance with Clegg to attempt escape, to keep her humanity in the face of what she must do to get out.  We see her gradually fall in love with the life that is now completely denied her and we understand her plans and schemes to save it.

Emotionally, the novel is a rollercoaster, a tour-de-force that is nearly impossible to put down.  After over 50 years, it still packs a gigantic punch that’s impossible to escape.  It’s a novel that should take its place as a classic.  A MUST-READ!

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