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The Collector by John Fowles

The Collector (1963)

by John Fowles

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A nice book.
Very interesting way of telling the story. First Frederic's that was quite interesting and compelling. Then from Miranda's point of viee, that was also interesting, but less captive to me because the story line was already laid out.
The book really has an open ending, but from the way Frederic was described, I think I know how the story will continue 😃 ( )
  BoekenTrol71 | Aug 4, 2016 |
People who know me and my love for insects might be a bit surprised to learn that I really don't approve of, and don't understand, the mania for collecting them. I had to for an assignment once in college -- for a whole semester, I was out there with a killing jar and a set of pins and all the other accoutrements. I was going to be graded on my collection, on its variety and the quality of its specimens and all the rest. As excuses for being outdoors when everybody else was (supposed to be) studying in the library or whatever, it was all right.

But I would have rather been given a quality camera and a notebook to scribble down observations about how the insects behaved while they were, you know, still alive.

The male protagonist, Frederick "Call me Ferdinand" Clegg, in John Fowles' astonishingly creepy The Collector feels differently about things. To see a rare or unusual butterfly -- he only collects butterflies, though he thinks of going into moths -- is to want it dead and pinned in a box. And since he's a very socially maladjusted man, as certainly all insect fanciers are*, he takes the same attitude towards certain specimens of other species as well. Such as lovely (human) art student Miranda, whom he encounters in one of those unfortunately magical moments in which a young man is prone to mistake an anima projection for true love, right around the time he also happens to win the football pool at work, meaning he has stumbled into the mid-century equivalent of Eff You Money.

To his credit (I guess) he decides that this specimen is better enjoyed alive, the better to someday live out his fantasy that she is going to, I guess, succumb to Stockholm Syndrome** and fall in love with him and marry him and have his babies. So he takes most of his pool winnings and buys and furnishes a human-sized terrarium for her, in the cellar of a secluded country cottage. As one does.

The fascinating thing through these early chapters is watching our man engage in some serious mental gymnastics: he's not really going to do this thing, but what if he did? He pretends to himself that he's treating it all as an elaborate thought experiment and is thus astonished, in a way that we readers are not, to find himself actually doing the things he's thought of. Buying the house. Fixing up the cellar. Stalking the girl. Carrying a cloth soaked in chloroform in his coat pocket.

This would all be very interesting reading right there -- watching a still-pretty-ordinary-despite-his-peculiarities-guy fighting this impulse he's had. But Fowles takes us from thought to deed, and just as we're thoroughly squicked out and sick of this character, Fowles seems to agree and flips the perspective; the second half of the novel is told from the perspective of Miranda, the collected, the victim.

And that's the other fascinating thing in this book, because we learn, long before Miranda becomes the author of chapters of The Collector, that while Clegg may think he's captured a pretty, helpless butterfly, he's really captured something much more powerful. Some kind of bee, maybe; Miranda has a sting. Miranda is smart and self-possessed and has a highly developed emotional intelligence that leaves Clegg floundering from their first face-to-face onwards. Not one scene between them goes according to Clegg's script; its only his extraordinary grip on his delusion, or his delusion's grip on him, that defends him from her deft emotional manipulations.

Unfortunately, that's all either of these characters turn out to be: fascinating, Clegg in his maladjusted inability to resist his icky and absurd impulses, Miranda in her repulsive fixation on class and on her idea of herself as one of the few rare and talented special ones who must battle against the ugly ordinary people. She's a mid-century epitome of the know-it-all feel-it-all fix-it-all College Girl Who Is So Much Better Than You. Though her fate is horrifying, the reader (at least this reader, who may have personality problems of her very own, oh yes) winds up kind of relishing watching her endure it, a little bit.

Which means that Fowles is a genius at eliciting reader complicity in the horrors he is depicting. This one goes on the strongly-disliked-but-undeniably-admired shelf next to Robert Silverberg's Book of Skulls. It wasn't quite the hate read that Book of Skulls was, but it certainly was not a pleasure read, either.

But it sure is remarkable. Somewhere between 3.5 and 4 stars, really. I was generous just because of the sheer quality.

*Sideshow Bob Grumble.

**Though that phenomenon and its terminology were not described until ten years after The Collector was first published. ( )
  KateSherrod | Aug 1, 2016 |

I first came across The Collector while watching Criminal Minds (The episode with someone called The Fisher King), and somewhere in my mind a made a special note of this book. When I saw it some time later, I really wanted to read it. (My cover by the way has a butterfly on the cover, which in my opinion fits the story much better than the one shown here on Booklikes).

It's a story about a young man, who has won a lot of money in some kind of lottery and can now do as he pleases. One of the things he likes to do is collect things. When he sees a beautiful young woman one day, he wants to collect her as well. Next thing she knows, she wakes up in her new cell, the principal piece is his collection. He's sure that she will eventually like him (He's already expecting Stockholm syndrome?)...

This book was written in 1963, which makes it - I think - one of the first books in the modern sub genre 'psychological thriller'. I really liked this one. It was very elaborate, didn't try to shock people by disgusting details of rape or torture. It did however shock me on many other levels, like the fact he never thinks he's doing something wrong, he just making sure they can get to know each other well enough to fall in love.

It also shows the major point of this story, the fact that the main character is a coward, he can never life with his own choices. It shows trough everything he does. (The spoiler will give you some examples)

- Instead of just trying to make her fall in love with him the normal way, he abducts her

- When she starts getting sick he promises to move her upstairs, buy her medicine, get her to a hospital, but never does any of these things, even if this means she'll die.

- When she's dead, he plans to kill himself, but obviously, never does.

- He's absolutely sure he'll never be able to love any one else, for about five minutes. (this last one did creep me out a bit, because how many woman could he have held in that cell without anyone noticing?)

I also really liked the POV. It's mainly the man's, but sometimes it switches to the woman's and we get some parts again, but from the different POV. It gives insides in the different motives they have for displaying certain behaviour, and how they let their own judgement be clouded with (false) hope.

This really is an interesting read, it's one of my favourite thrillers. I would definitely recommend this book! ( )
  Floratina | May 26, 2016 |
I was going to give it 3 stars, but then came the, maybe 50, last pages and I couldn't give it less than 4.
Full review: (http://wordslikemagic.wordpress.com/2013/04/15/the-collector-by-john-fowles/) ( )
  zombiehero | Mar 25, 2016 |
The Collector is the story of the abduction and imprisonment of Miranda Grey by Frederick Clegg, told first from his point of view, and then from hers by means of a diary she has kept, with a return in the last few pages to Clegg's narration of her illness and death.

Clegg's section begins with his recalling how he used to watch Miranda entering and leaving her house, across the street from the town hall in which he worked. He describes keeping an "observation diary" about her, whom he thinks of as "a rarity," and his mention of meetings of the "Bug Section" confirms that he is an amateur lepidopterist. On the first page, then, Clegg reveals himself to possess the mind-set of a collector, one whose attitude leads him to regard Miranda as he would a beautiful butterfly, as an object from which he may derive pleasurable control, even if "collecting" her will deprive her of freedom and life.

Clegg goes on to describe events leading up to his abduction of her, from dreams about Miranda and memories of his stepparents or coworkers to his winning a "small fortune" in a football pool. When his family emigrates to Australia and Clegg finds himself on his own, he begins to fantasize about how Miranda would like him if only she knew him. He buys a van and a house in the country with an enclosed room in its basement that he remodels to make securable and hideable. When he returns to London, Clegg watches Miranda for 10 days. Then, as she is walking home alone from a movie, he captures her, using a rag soaked in chloroform, ties her up in his van, takes her to his house, and locks her in the basement room.

When she awakens, Clegg finds Miranda sharper than "normal people" like himself. She sees through some of his explanations, and recognizes him as the person whose picture was in the paper when he won the pool. Because he is somewhat confused by her unwillingness to be his "guest" and embarrassed by his inadvertent declaration of love, he agrees to let her go in one month. He attributes her resentment to the difference in their social background: "There was always class between us."

Clegg tries to please Miranda by providing for her immediate needs. He buys her a Mozart record and thinks, "She liked it and so me for buying it." he fails to understand human relations except in terms of things. About her appreciation for the music, he comments, "It sounded like all the rest to me but of course she was musical." There is indeed a vast difference between them, but he fails to recognize the nature of the difference because of the terms he thinks in. When he shows her his butterfly collection, Miranda tells him that he thinks like a scientist rather than an artist, someone who classifies and names and then forgets about things. She sees a deadening tendency, too, in his photography, his use of cant, and his decoration of the house. As a student of art and a maker of drawings, her values contrast with his: Clegg can judge her work only in terms of its representationalism, or photographic realism. In despair at his insensitivity when he comments that all of her pictures are "nice," she says that his name should be Caliban--the subhuman creature in Shakespeare's The Tempest.

Miranda uses several ploys in attempts to escape. She feigns appendicitis, but Clegg only pretends to leave, and sees her recover immediately. She tries to slip a message into the reassuring note that he says he will send to her parents, but he finds it. When he goes to London, she asks for a number of articles that will be difficult to find, so that she will have time to, try to dig her way out with a nail she has found, but that effort also is futile.

When the first month has elapsed, Miranda dresses up for what she hopes will be their last dinner. She looks so beautiful that Clegg has difficulty responding except with cliches and confusion. When she refuses his present of diamonds and offer of marriage, he tells her that he will not release her after all. She tries to escape by kicking a log out of the fire, but he catches her and chloroforms her again, this time taking off her outer clothing while she is unconscious and photographing her in her underwear.

Increasingly desperate, Miranda tries to kill Clegg with an axe he has left out when he is escorting her to take a bath upstairs. She injures him, but he is able to prevent her from escaping. Finally, she tries to seduce him, but he is unable to respond, and leaves, feeling humiliated. He pretends that he will allow her to move upstairs, with the stipulation that she must allow him to take pornographic photographs of her. She reluctantly cooperates, and he immediately develops the pictures, preferring the ones with her face cut off.

Having caught a cold from Clegg, Miranda becomes seriously ill, but Clegg hesitates to bring a doctor to the house. He does get her some pills, but she becomes delirious, and the first section ends with Clegg's recollection: "I thought I was acting for the best and within my rights."

The second section is Miranda's diary, which rehearses the same events from her point of view, but includes much autobiographical reflection on her life before her abduction. She begins with her feelings over the first seven days, before she had paper to write on. She observes that she never knew before how much she wanted to live.

Miranda describes her thoughts about Clegg as she tries to understand him. She describes her view of the house and ponders the unfairness of the whole situation. She frequently remembers things said by G. P., who gradually is revealed to be a middle-aged man who is a painter and mentor whom Miranda admires. She re-creates a conversation with Clegg over, among other things, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. She gets him to promise to send a contribution, but he only pretends to. She admits that he's now the only real person in her world.

Miranda describes G. P. as the sort of person she would like to marry, or at any rate the sort of mind. She lists various ways he has changed her think- ing, most of which involved precepts about how to live an authentic, committed life. Then she characterizes G. P. by telling of a time that he met her aunt and found her so lacking in discernment and sincerity that he made Miranda feel compelled to choose between him and her aunt. Miranda seems to choose his way of seeing, and he subsequently offers some harsh but honest criticism of her drawing, which seems to help her to become more self-aware and discriminating. Her friends Antoinette and Piers fail to appreciate the art G. P. has produced, and Miranda breaks with her Aunt Caroline over her failure to appreciate Rembrandt. Miranda describes her growing attraction to G. P., despite their age difference and his history of sexual infidelity. In the final episode about him, however, G. P. confesses to being in love with her and, as a consequence, wants to break off their friendship. She is flattered but agrees that doing so would probably be for the best.

Miranda says that G. P. is "one of the few." Her aunt--and Clegg--are implicitly among "the many," who lack creativity and authenticity. Indeed, Miranda associates Clegg's shortcomings with "the blindness, deadness, out-of-dateness, stodginess and, yes, sheer jealous malice of the great bulk of England," and she begins to lose hope. She gets Clegg to read Catcher in the Rye, but he doesn't understand it. Miranda feels more alone and more desperate, and her reflections become more philosophical. She describes her reasons for thinking that seducing Clegg might change him, and does not regret the subsequent failed attempt, but she fears that he now can hope only to keep her prisoner.

Miranda begins to think of what she will do if she ever gets free, including revive her relationship with G. P. on any terms as a commitment to life. At this point, Miranda becomes sick with Clegg's cold, literally as well as metaphorically. As she becomes increasingly ill, her entries in the journal become short, declarative sentences and lamentations.

The third section is Clegg's, and picks up where his first left off. He tells of becoming worried over her symptoms and over her belief that she is dying. When he takes her temperature, Clegg realizes how ill Miranda is and decides to go for a doctor. As he sits in the waiting room, Clegg begins to feel insecure, and he goes to a drugstore instead, where the pharmacist refuses to help him. When he returns and finds Miranda worse, Clegg goes back to town in the middle of the night, to wake a doctor; this time an inquisitive policeman frightens him off. Miranda dies, and Clegg plans to commit suicide.

In the final section, less than three pages long, Clegg describes awakening to a new outlook. He decides that he is not responsible for Miranda's death, that his mistake was kidnapping someone too far above him, socially. As the novel ends, Clegg is thinking about how he will have to do things somewhat differently when he abducts a more suitable girl that he has seen working in Woolworth's.

  bostonwendym | Mar 3, 2016 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
John Fowlesprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Schouwen, Frédérique vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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que fors aus ne le sot riens nee
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When she was home from her boarding-school I used to see her almost every day sometimes, because their house was right opposite the Town Hall Annexe.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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This is a tale of obsessive love-the story of a lonely clerk who collects butterflies and of the beautiful young art student who is his ultimate quarry - remains unparalleled in its power to startle and mesmerize. (0-316-29023-8)
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Ferdinand has always loved collecting butterflies, but when he becomes obsessed with a young college student, he decides to add her to his collection, against her wishes.

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