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The Collector: Disturbing, Intriguing, and Unreliable

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The Collector, John Fowles 1963 novel,  is a psychological thriller focused on showing the different sides of cruelty and depravity in humans. The novel features a man, Frederick Clegg, who collects butterflies- and one woman who Clegg has become completely obsessed with – Miranda Grey.

While Clegg is despicable for kidnapping her and keeping her hostage, he makes several declarations that he has no intentions of harming her.

Fowles does an excellent job of painting Clegg as an quasi-gentleman. Clegg treats Grey as one of his butterflies, with extreme care and caution. The first part (of four) is written from Clegg’s point of view. While the story is narrated by Clegg, readers are exposed to the true nature of his intentions, which do not appear to be completely evil.  

I almost began to feel bad for Clegg, as I began to see him as nothing more than a lonely madman. He spends the whole book trying to win Miranda’s love by showering her with expensive clothes, records, art supplies, food and anything else she asked for. Kidnapping her wasn’t great. In fact it’s pretty subpar, but he did little harm to her while he was there, showing there was a deeper rooted issue to his madness.

The last two parts of the book are also told from Clegg’s point of view, but by the end of the novel, his disturbing nature really shines through. Fowles nails the role of the unreliable narrator using inconsistencies and strange diction throughout the novel.

Throughout the novel, I started to trust Clegg in the sense that he truly meant no harm.  However, the last two pages ruined the whole book for me. He begins to explain his plan to kidnap another young woman, but with malevolent intentions planned.The final page of the books says –

“…This time it won’t be love, it would be just for the interest of the thing and to compare them and also the other thing, which as I say I would like to go into in more detail and I could teach her how. And the clothes would fit. Of course I would make it clear from the start who’s boss and what I expect.”

This is so sinister to me because it shows what his new thoughts are after keeping Grey. He no longer wants the love he begged her for, but rather he now wants power and control over another person. It’s clear that his next victim will not be treated nearly as gently he treated Grey (ignoring the chloroform and psychological torment).

The novel does its job of being a thriller fantastically. It kept me engaged and on edge. Each creepy sentence and detail kept me intrigued. I had to set the book down and take a minute more than once because the morality (or lack thereof) was too far from my place on the spectrum. Fowles does an amazing job of sending readers on a psychological trip, and this novel made me aware of all the little details about people I encounter each day, what might be creepy and what might be normal. He also, as I said earlier, nails the technique of an unreliable narrator.

The Collector is excellently executed and is truly a psychological thriller, and even though I hated a lot of the events and quotes from the book, it’s a novel I would read again because of its engaging and well written content.

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The Collector: Disturbing, Intriguing, and Unreliable