The Collector by John Fowles Review 3/5

Overall Impression: A disturbing insight into the deranged mind of a sociopath.

Ok, so I didn’t pick this book out of choice. It was set as The Collector by John Fowlesrequired reading for my first module on my Creative and Professional Writing course. Previous to this I knew nothing about the book or the writer, so I went in blind! We haven’t actually started discussing it yet so my thoughts on it may change in the next few weeks. But for now, on with the review! 🙂

Withdrawn, uneducated and unloved, Frederick collects butterflies and takes photographs. He is obsessed with a beautiful stranger, the art student Miranda. When he wins the pools he buys a remote Sussex house and calmly abducts Miranda, believing she will grow to love him in time. Alone and desperate, Miranda must struggle to overcome her own prejudices and contempt if she is to understand her captor, and so gain her freedom.

I think that’s all the plot explanation you need; the premise is quite simple as the books emphasis is heavily character driven and busting with social commentary rather than plot points.

John Fowles
writing is a hard one to critique in this case because I didn’t like it. In fact, I think the point is that you are not supposed to like it. There are no elaborate descriptions to paint a bright picture of the settings, places or people. The writing feels clinical and very matter of fact, and I think this is supposed to reflect the way that Frederick views the world; his detachment and his negative outlook on society. So for this very reason I cannot say that I enjoyed his writing style, it didn’t inspire me and it didn’t make me want to pick up any of his other works, but at the same time I recognize that the message he wanted to convey couldn’t have been done any other way, and it is very effective.

The structure of this book is very strange. It doesn’t have chapters as you would expect, but instead is split into four sections. The first works as a prologue of sorts, the last an epilogue, while the two main sections portray different sides of the story; one from the captor Fredericks point of view and the other from the captive, Miranda. Again I understand what Fowles was trying to do here by contrasting the two characters viewpoints, but I found it a bit frustrating. Although events move slowly in this book with very little happening, it doesn’t feel that way at first while you are reading it because Frederick is such a compelling character, even if you are somewhat repulsed by him you want to continue reading, intrigued to see how events will escalate. However just when you reach the finale of the story you are cut off, and have to go through the entire events of the book again but from Miranda’s perspective. I felt that this really interrupted the flow of the book. Miranda’s point of view was far less interesting and I found it very hard work to get through.

Another aspect of the plot that I found intriguing, but also the most irritating were the themes and messages Fowles was trying to convey. Throughout the book, (although much more noticeably in Miranda’s section) Fowles warns of the dangers of social class. How the gaps and misunderstandings between the working class and the middle class can breed contempt, as well as many other debates (for instance one of the more interesting theories I found was the idea that the poor only have better morals because they have to in order to survive, but if they are lucky enough to be elevated to the middle class they will become equally bad or even worse, because they do not know how to use their money.) However, it is safe to say that Fowles is no Jane Austen. He doesn’t subtly influence the readers existing views but rather beats you over the head with it until you submit. At some points I did consider sending an angry email to the other side telling him to shut up, lol! The problem is that it just felt too preachy to be effective to me, and it didn’t help that I actually disagreed with quite a lot of his views. Was it though provoking? Absolutely. But it was also irritating.

Fowles also makes several literary reference in The Collector, some of which I fear were completely lost on me. The one’s about Jane Austen’s Emma I got, the one’s related to The Tempest by Shakespeare however I mostly still don’t understand. The main characters share names with several of those in The Tempest, but because I have never read it it didn’t really add any depth to the characters for me I’m afraid, although I did research it a little. 🙂

The characters in this book were really well done. Frederick is very believable and Fowles could easily have gone down the stereotypical route of making him a one sided evil individual, but the fact that we are centred in his point of view means that we are able to see the logic behind his twisted mind so that to an extent, you empathize with him even though you don’t like him. Miranda on the other hand is vain, conceited and incredibly irritating. I thought that this was a really interesting role reversal, to make the reader empathize more with the captor than the captive, and it made a really interesting dynamic. There aren’t really any other characters in the book. A few others are mentioned in moments of contemplation but we never actually meet them, only hear about them.

I would recommend this book to people that are interested in philosophizing about the meanings of class, art and love. Who like a bit of a disturbing read that makes them think and are happy with a simple plot to keep them entertained. Both males and females 16+ will enjoy it. 🙂

Writing Style: 3/5
Originality: 4/5
Entertainment: 3/5
Character Development: 4/5
Would I recommend this book? Not really, but it was interesting.

Overall 3/5

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17 thoughts on “The Collector by John Fowles Review 3/5

  1. Sounds different. THE CLOUD ATLAS uses a similar broken style; the first part is a book being read by someone in the second part, who is a character in a TV show in the third…

    When was this originally published? It’s fashionable these days to tell a story from the psychotic’s POV, was this one of the first?

    • Hey Tony. 🙂 It was very different.
      I’ve never heard of The Clouds Atlas, but that sounds pretty interesting. I know it’s a style that exists, but it is not one that I’ve come across much in my own reading. I’m still a bit undecided as to whether I like it or not. Is The Cloud Atlas a good book?

      The Collector was published in 1963, so I imagine it was one of the earlier ones to do it, but I don’t know for sure. I more felt that it was original because of the way it portrayed Miranda so negatively, it is not often in my experience that an author paints the captive in a negative light!

      Always great to hear from you Tony! 🙂

  2. Erg, re-reading too much of the same events again, even from a different perspective, kills the sense of progression in a story.

    A few books/films have done this, and it can be annoying.

    The film Vantage Point did it in places, but I rather enjoyed it.

    Done anything daft or completely irresponsible at uni yet?

    • Haha yepp! It certainly does. I had no clue it was going to happen either, I just turned the page and suddenly I was back to square one again, I was very annoyed, lol.

      I don’t think I’ve ever seen Vantage Point….I don’t recognize the name anyway. I saw Source Code though and that was about a guy who had to relive the same 8 minutes again and again.

      Nothing irresponsible to report I’m afraid….. just the same old me. 😛

  3. Hmmm, maybe if a class forced me to read it. 🙂 I wonder if the discussions will change your mind – you will have to let us know!

    • Haha, yeah it wouldn’t be a book I would jump to recommend to someone, but it was still quite interesting so I’m glad that I read it. 🙂

      I’m curious if it will change my mind too, although in the past analyzing a book in class usually makes me dislike rather than like it more. :S

      • haha – that is funny! What do you think that is? The process? The extra work? Or knowing the story and author toooo well?

      • Hmmm, I’m not 100% sure. I think it’s probably because I associate it with the stress of trying to get a good grade, and all the irritating homework’s and assessments that go with it that I dislike.
        But then again…maybe I just had some rubbish teachers! 😛

  4. “I would recommend this book to people that are interested in philosophizing about the meanings of class, art and love.” – Yes, very much! A fair observation by all means.
    It was so interesting and FUN to read a friendly opinion of this novel – was kind of going back and forth in my head as I read it, ala “Yes, yes, good point,” and “Oh I saw that differently.”
    I think what I enjoyed most about the philosophical aspects of the novel was that I had not anticipated them at all. I thought this was going to be more of a speed-read about a sociopath based on the description. But truly it surprised me. I couldn’t get the image of the girl who played Abra in “East of Eden” out of my head whenever Miranda was writing – emphatic, dramatic, emotional and all that. I found Miranda’s vanity annoying, as well. I definitely agree with you about Frederick’s beginning section having a much faster pace and then all of a sudden we’re thrown into Miranda’s POV and it slows down like a Twitter server crash -.- However, I suppose her POV was essential to show those marked differences between Freddy (Freddie?) and Miranda in terms of class, values, elevated thinking, etc. I was annoyed and intrigued by her obsession with G.P., the older-man-artist she was pining for, because I think we’ve all encountered or observed people like him/his archetype, but she’s in love with the ideal/idea of him, and Freddie is just in love with the idea/ideal of her – so really one is no better than the other in terms of building up a person as something they’re not. Granted, Miranda didn’t kidnap G.P. and lock him away in a basement, lol. This definitely wasn’t the most enchanting prose I’ve read, but I can’t help but admire the sophisticated layers of ideas worked into the story, along with Freddie’s disturbing calmness (I think he has Antisocial Personality Disorder – but you study psychology, right? I think? I hope I’m not botching that up lol, but yes, did you get that vibe or is it just me?). Anywho, loved reading this review which summed everything up so articulately! 🙂

    • Haha, thank you!
      It’s so weird looking back at this review, I don’t even remember writing it but that’s why I love having this blog, I can look back, read my words and the memories and my thoughts come flooding back! Although this one has more negative points than I remembered. I liked a lot about this book but I got frustrated with a few elements. I’m glad you found some points to both agree and disagree with!

      I agree, this novel was deeper and more philosophical than I was expecting from the blurb and front cover. I found Miranda incredibly annoying! Although, I kind of liked that Fowles portrayed her like that in a way, because I had never felt less empathetic towards someone being held hostage, it was quite odd and I kind of liked it! (I say this now but at the time she drove me barmy.) Yes, seeing her perspective made things much more rounded. I liked the idea in theory but it really slowed the pace for me. I think maybe if the writer had swapped POV before we knew how everything was going to end I would have liked it more. Ohh yes, G.P., I’d forgotten all about him! She did go on and on about him, but I quite liked their interactions. I love the way you put that, I totally agree. In that way it almost has a Gatsby vibe, I like books that tackle that issue because a lot of the time we are in love with the idea of someone rather than the actual person even if we don’t realise it.
      Yes he could likely have antisocial personality disorder. 🙂 I think he has so many layers to him that it is difficult to say for definite whether he is one thing or another, but he shows a lot of signs of it. I thought of him as a sociopath while reading, but there are quite a few traits that overlap.

      I think what I like most about this book in retrospect is that up until this point I had agreed with the majority of philosophical views presented in books. The Collector was first novel I had encountered where I disagreed a lot. I think in that way it challenged me more, it made me think more than if I had just blindly accepted everything the characters were saying. 🙂

      • Disagreeing is just as important as – if not more than – resonating with philosophical points in literature, so really I think it’s great that you can recognize what you didn’t like about it, even if it has value or was purposefully done on the part of the writer. Off the top of my head I can’t think of any books that have really done that for/to me except … hmm no, nope, can’t even think of one haha. I’ve read essays that I’ve disagreed with, but never fiction that made me go “HEY WAITTA MINUTE.” So truly, I give you props for challenging the book’s philosophies/style as much as it challenged you! 🙂

      • Thanks! I don’t think I realised that at the time I originally wrote this review but I do now. 🙂
        Wow, really? That’s interesting. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I don’t even know. Maybe neither. Although now I come to think of it I don’t remember many other books that have had this affect on me either, just The Collector. Either way, this book was memorable!

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