The Collector

April 3, 2018 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

collectorThe Collector by John Fowles


The Collector is not a comfortable book. It’s not intended to be. You get that sense early in the book, when you realize that the main character, our narrator, plans to abduct and keep a young woman he admires, but has never met.

Since the bulk of the book is written from his perspective, we get a front-row seat into his delusions and madness. This isn’t the first type of book I’ve read that follows this formula — Michael McDowell’s Toplin is one — but there’s something about The Collector that feels squickier. Maybe it’s that we’re there to see him direct harm in someone’s direction without even realizing it.

In the beginning of the book, our narrator is a collector of butterflies. He collects them for their beauty, but in order to collect them, he must first catch and kill them to put them on display. This foreshadows the events leading up to and beyond the abduction, but Fowles introduces us to the dynamic of the story through the narrator’s dispassionate presentation of events. The first chapter — nearly half the book — is an unbroken segment of him telling us his side of the story. To say he’s unreliable is an understatement.

The book is best categorized as horror (I stumbled across it in The Book of Lists: Horror, after all), but while the content is horrible, it doesn’t feel like a horror novel to me. It feels more like a character examination, even as there’s a plot that keeps us on edge, and has us begging for the story not to turn out like we expect. It’s certainly uncomfortable, but where horror sometimes offers a glimpse of hope, The Collector eschews that in favor of making us squirm.

An interesting part of the book is we get to see into the mind of our abductor and the one abducted. As we get more familiar with the abductor, we realize that his idea of love is something skewed and imperfect. Interestingly, as we get more familiar with the abducted, we find the same kind of thing. Her perception isn’t as twisted as his, but her hang-up with an older mentor shows that she has some things to learn, too. Through her, we find out that the mentor has an idealized image of her in his mind, and treats her as as much of an object as her abductor does. The difference is he knows when to let her go.

I’ve read horror novels that have left a bad taste in my mouth — Geek Love and The Girl Next Door — but I’ve been able to find something redeeming in the books and in the narrative. Somehow, I was unable to find that in The Collector. Even though it feels like a more literary, important work, it doesn’t give me a reason to want to read it again, or recommend it. It’s well told, and effective, but even for readers who want dark character examinations, I would recommend either of those books mentioned above before The Collector.

Started: January 2, 2018
Finished: January 7, 2018

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