Wednesday 5 October 2016

RIP XI Book IV: The Collector by John Fowles

I'm having a bit of a weird RIP this year, because none of the books I've been reading have been purely based in horror. They're all a little bit chilling and undoubtedly horrible, but apart from The Silence of the Lambs, none of them have really made me jump in the way I associate scary things to do. But that is not to say that they haven't scared me.

The Collector is maybe the best example of this so far. The book starts off fairly innocently with the first person narration of a man who would probably describe himself as 'a fairly normal bloke'. His lack of normalcy is probably best defined by one of the three following features: 1. He has no friends, 2. He collects butterflies, or 3. He has just won the pools, and it is the last of these three that really puts the whole story into motion. He describes, as if it's the most normal thing in the world, his interest in, and then obsession with, AND THEN kidnapping of art student Miranda. 

It's really that fact that he thinks that everything he's doing is completely normal that makes the story so scary. Given access into his mind, we understand that he truly believes he's creating a wonderful home for Miranda, buying her everything she could possibly want or need, and just omitting from his mind that he's creating an terrifying underground dungeon for a woman who he kidnaps and takes away from her friends and family and everything she's ever known. It's as if, winning this money and being able to buy everything he wants makes him feel entitled to having literally everything, even people, who, as the book makes pretty clear, he believes he can collect as easily and painlessly as he does butterflies.

Since his narration is so entitled and calm, you almost get lulled into believing with him that what he's doing is sort of ok. He isn't violent OR sexually violent (or sexual. At all) with Miranda, and because we're in his head, his thoughts that she should maybe just be nice to him because he isn't really doing anything that bad sort of start to permeate your own thinking until you start to wonder whether you're an ok person or not because Jesus, you really can't be. BUT THEN (and I guess this is sort of a spoiler, although it's a large chunk of the book so I wonder how much it really matters but if you're like 'omg tell me nothing about the book ever' then look away, yeah) the story does a 180 and you get Miranda's side of the story and it jolts you back into the mindset of a normal human being, making all of this guy's actions look messed up and horrible, as they always should have been.

Miranda's narrative is really the best of this book, at least for me, because it draws into focus how we should have been seeing her kidnapper all along, and also how she manages to cope with life in his dungeon. The contrast between them is dazzling, and made most clear when you realise that Miranda lives, at least while under his control, mostly within her mind and memories and ideas, which only helps to make it seem clearer that he has almost none of these, or at least none that we are privy too. It is through Miranda that Fowles is able to talk about class and gender and art and it all seems perfectly reasonable that she is thinking about this stuff because, you know, what else is there to do down there? Exactly.

I obviously can't really talk about the ending (my disdain for spoilers doesn't go quite that far) but let's just say it's good. It's really good. It's so good, even if I forget all the rest of the book, it's definitely the part I'll remember. It's pretty much the only way the book could have ended, and is just so fitting and oh my god I have to stop because I'm going to blurt out what it is because I really just want to discuss it and ok no, I can't do that. No.

But did I mention that it's really good? Cause it is.

So, in the end, is this book. Chilling in how normally everything is treated, and then interesting, and just lots of good things to recommend it to prospective readers. It's definitely scary enough for a RIP read, but it's also interesting enough for a read at just about any other time of year too. Definitely worth your time and attention, if you care to give them to it.


  1. I read this book a while back - it's excellent, but one of the most depressing reads I have EVER come across. It's very disturbing indeed, but so well done :)

  2. This is the one book I read but never reviewed (it ended up packed in a box and by the time I got it back I couldn't remember enough to talk about it) but I remember it being intense and the ending made me sad but was good and like you said, the only ending that would have worked.

  3. Oh yay! I didn't know you were reading this! I bought it earlier in the year because Charlotte had loved it, and I read it pretty much immediately.

    I really, really liked it! Miranda was a bit pretentious and a bit annoying, so I struggled to feel sorry for her... but yeah. Amazing writing.

    I keep meaning to look for his other books.

    1. Haha, I've just reread your comment on my review where you say 'DEFINITELY going to read it for RIP this year!'

      AND YOU DID! Go you! ;D

      *waves little flag*