John Fowles, The Collector (Little, Brown and Company, 1963; Back Bay Books, 1997)

The Collector was John Fowles' first published novel, but it reads like the work of someone far more experienced. The title character is Frederick, a butterfly collector (who prefers to be called Ferdinand), who decides to "collect" the long-admired-from-a-distance object of his fantasy, an art student named Miranda.

Frederick keeps Miranda prisoner in a room in his secluded basement. All he wants is for Miranda to love him and, other than keeping her prisoner, he treats her like a queen, fulfilling her every need or want. This is where The Collector succeeds best, in making Frederick not a monster, but a pitiful, lonely man in need of love and willing to give Miranda everything except her freedom.

Chapter One gives us Frederick's viewpoint and Fowles makes an interesting choice to use quotations around Miranda's dialogue but not Frederick's. Perhaps this is meant to signify that he lives so much in his head that his thoughts are inseparable from his speech.

Chapter Two makes us privy to Miranda's diary, kept secretly during her captivity. Fowles' skill at characterization really comes to light in this diary, where we are allowed into the mind of a captured woman who, desperate in her solitude, comes to realize her need for the company of her captor. Unfortunately, the pace slows at this point as Miranda goes deeply into the history of a past relationship. I found this tedious and felt these sections should have been cut. A story like The Collector works best the shorter it is and, even at just 300 pages, a little trimming could have improved this novel immensely.

Near the end, an unexpected tragedy occurs, and we are thrust into the true terror of the situation, discovering in the process what Frederick is really made of through his response to the situation.

A thread of Shakespeare's The Tempest runs throughout their relationship. Frederick sees himself as "Ferdinand" to his Miranda, but she instead refers to him as "Caliban" in her diary.

I see in retrospect that Miranda is one of the great female characters in literature. The book begins as the story of Frederick/Ferdinand but really comes to life as Miranda details her inner thoughts, schemes, and struggles — and even sympathies — on paper. The Collector becomes not the story of the collector, but of the collected.

[Craig Clarke]