The Collector is spooky. It’s spookiness derives not from the existence of the supernatural, but from the raw plot and narrative of it’s two (and only) characters. It is nowhere near a ghost story and there is not a poltergeist to be found within its pages. But this tale left me with chills that stayed for days after I put it down. The key to the haunting brilliance of The Collector is the binary opposition between the protagonists – the so-called collector and the collected. Set in 1960s Britain, Miranda is an art student studying at the dawn of second-wave feminism; the backdrop to her world filled with student and political uprisings. Miranda is kidnapped by Frederick at the outset of the novel. Frederick is withdrawn, uneducated and unloved. Feckless. He is separated from the social world due to his inadequacies. He builds an isolated room for Miranda to ‘collect’ or keep her and thus Miranda is forced into isolation by Frederick.
As an author, Fowles is ‘fair’ to each of his protagonists. He seemingly relinquishes control as objective narrator by allowing Miranda and Frederick first person narrative for half the book each. Frederick’s perspective is first. One of Frederick’s most insightful statements to Miranda is ‘you don’t know what you are. You’re everything. I got nothing if you go’. Miranda had everything, but now shares isolation and loneliness with Frederick as it has been forced upon her. As captor and the captured, their world views are polarised physically, emotionally and socially. Through the stark contrast of his characters, Fowles makes a pretty strong comment about the class system in Britain. Fowles warns of the danger of class and intellectual divisions in a society where prosperity for the majority was becoming more widespread. He was particularly concerned with power (whether by wealth or position) getting into the hands of those intellectually unsuited to handle it. The juxtaposition of the social positions of Miranda and Frederick highlight this commentary.
Miranda as a victim is not always likeable. Empathy for her ebbs and flows despite the desperation of her situation. When she controls the narrative through the format of diary entries, she reveals an inevitable vulnerability along with her unyielding affectations.
This book is chillingly brilliant. It does not conclude with a glossy Hollywood for fairy tale ending. It’s dark and brutal. And brilliant.