Somehow when I spotted this it didn’t click that this was the same John Fowles that wrote A Maggot, otherwise I may have avoided reading this for some years and seriously deprived myself of the best book I’ve read in ages. Actually I think a flicker of recognition may have occurred between picking it out of the “recommended” section and turning it over to read the blurb – but immediately disappeared when I did.
The Collector, as I gained from the blurb, is about a man who likes to collect (dead) butterflies and one day manages to collect a (live) girl. To expand on that slightly, Frederick “Ferdinand” Clegg a simple (by which I mean that, from his narrative, he seems unable to experience complex feelings – while displaying an incredibly perverse sense of “right” and “wrong”) clerk one day wins the football pools and, after some meticulous planning and preparation, manages to capture the girl of his dreams – who he has long watched from afar – Miranda.
The novel that jumps to mind in comparison is Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita: but unlike Humbert Humbert, Frederick is not eloquent: he does not at any point seduce his audience or get them on his side (at least, not me). All the way through his narrative my sympathies were with Miranda, there were no instances when I believed – as he does so adamantly – that what he was doing was in any way right or justified. Perhaps part of the reason for this is his steadfastness – Frederick for the most part does not doubt himself, he doesn’t need to use his narrative to convince himself (and in doing so, attempt to convince us) that what he’s doing is okay. He does not wheedle or toy with his reader, as Humbert does, the only times I felt any kind of positive feeling towards him were when he appeared to show remorse at his treatment of Miranda.
For the second half of the novel (and just when I was wondering what could possibly happen next) we have the events retold, from Miranda’s point of view. Miranda, in contrast to myself, does express remorse for her mean feelings towards Frederick (or Caliban, as she dubs him). Somehow, throughout her retelling, she maintains an optimism which extends even to her captor; feeling bad when she treats him ‘harshly’, ungrateful at all the things he buys for her to try and ‘improve’ her imprisonment…
This is without doubt one of the best books I’ve read all year – I could barely put it down and I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a book so much since the Cider House Rules – although even with that I’d been wanting to read it for a long time, that this came completely out of the blue made it better – even though in some ways I would have liked to have known about it before hand so that even finding it in the library would have been a triumph and added to the enjoyment slightly. Of course, this means John Fowles is responsible for penning both one of the best and worst books I’ve read this year – there are 4 of his on the list in total so I’m not sure whether the next one will be such a success as this or a return to the tedium of a Maggot. Either way – I’d definitely recommend this !