Considered by many to be the first psychological thriller, The Collector is the story of Frederick Clegg, a lonely, obsessive man, and Miranda, the beautiful young art student whom he kidnaps and holds captive in his basement.
The story begins with Clegg’s perspective, and then switches a third of the way through to Miranda’s diary entries, allowing considerable insight into both characters. In many ways they are opposites: where Miranda has a vibrant zest for life and a passion for creating beauty, Clegg is consumed by a desire to capture and possess the beauty that has always been absent from his life.
It’s an interesting character study. And while Fowles never makes excuses for Clegg’s actions, he carefully presents him as a human rather than a monster. I was fascinated (and not really surprised) to learn that several serial killers and kidnappers have referenced The Collector as the inspiration and justification for their crimes.
My problems with the book have little to do with the book itself and more to do with what I have been conditioned to expect from psychological thrillers. It’s hard reading a book that was ahead of its time or the first of its kind when you’re already so familiar with what the genre has become. Fowles’ story may have been inventive and shocking when it was published, but approaching it decades later, I found the plot to be rather predictable and diluted. Again, this is one of those situations where “it’s not you (the book), it’s me.”
Ultimately, I’m glad to have read The Collector to understand and appreciate its influence on the genre.