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Saturday, March 6th, 2004


The Collector

by John Fowles

A review by C. P. Farley

It's no coincidence that Janet Jackson's revealing half time "show" and Mel Gibson's blood drenched, neo-Medieval Passion play occurred at the same time. As a culture, we are becoming increasingly unwilling to leave anything to the imagination. This is bad news for writers of suspense, which relies on the reluctant fantasies of a baited imagination. Back in 1963, though, when celebrated British novelist John Fowles was just getting started, less was still more.

The plot of Fowles's debut novel, The Collector, is simple. After winning a substantial amount of money in the lottery, working class Frederick Clegg suddenly finds himself with the time and the money to pursue his heart's desire. And he knows precisely what he wants: an art student named Miranda Grey. But bland, dull-witted Frederick knows he doesn't have a chance with the beautiful young sophisticate. So he buys a secluded house in the countryside and kidnaps her, keeping her prisoner in a room in the basement.

But what precisely does he want with her? Sex? Love? Companionship? Or does he merely want to possess her, to collect her like a butterfly behind glass? These questions haunt Miranda -- and the reader -- as she struggles to find a way out of her predicament.

But John Fowles is much more than a suspense writer. There is far more at stake here than mere life and death. The duel between Miranda and Frederick quickly becomes an epic battle between "the few" who strive, perhaps arrogantly, for moral authenticity and aesthetic purity, and "the many" who lack creativity, intellectual subtlety, and moral purpose. But even in his social and intellectual explorations, what distinguishes Fowles as a novelist is his restraint. What makes the fate of Miranda, and all she represents, so chilling is not what happens to her, but what does not.

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