Man vs Bookshelf

Man vs Bookshelf: The Collector

This entry is part 29 of 104 in the series Man vs Bookshelf

After reading two non-fiction books, I was excited to read something that might offer more to review

Not that this doesn’t have its drawbacks.

For one, the time taken. 2018 has not got off to the best of starts for writing, and I constantly find myself behind where I would like to be.

Last weekend I took the decision to drop the first draft I was working on to get back into redrafting my next project, so it will still be ready for its early May release date.

This is depressing.

What hurts the most is not being so close, but that I’m bringing it on myself, via my good friend, Mental Weakness.

Take this very review, for example. I sat down to write it on my lunch break at work yesterday. I wrote the first two or three sentences and my other half asked me to get her bread.

So I went, and that’s fine. The problem is I decided that was it for review writing that day. I shut down my laptop and I said ‘that’s it’.

But I was back with half an hour of lunch still to go. I could have got more done.

It’s all indicative of the problems I’m having getting into my writing groove this year. And, as anyone who writes will tell you, once you get out of the writing habit, it’s mega tough to get back in.

I no longer leave myself time to write before work. I make excuses not to do much at lunch, and I do 45 minutes max in the evening, rather than the 1.5 hours I used to clock up.

That’s not to mention that my eight-hour weekend writing days have failed to materialise since mid-Jan.


Anyway, that’s all rather mopey.

I just wanted to give you a bit of an insight into my process, or lack thereof, before I got down to the reviewing.

See, while I’ve stopped writing so much, I’m reading more than ever.

This is due, at least in part, to Fay. The aforementioned other half. She’s turned this year’s reading into a challenge. Who can read more. That’s the sort of thing I can’t turn away from.

We’re both doing well, at least. As of The Collector (finished 18th Feb), we were both on 15. As I write this a week later I’m up to 18.

So, the reading is racing along. I need only to keep up with the review writing, and all will be okay.

And, with that in mind…

John Fowles and Me

I’m sure John and I would have been great friends if fate hadn’t intervened, killing him off when he was 79 and I was 13.

I never even knew of him. Well, not outside of his name being one of those that lingers in all minds due to his classic writer status.

Or, because I know him now, am I retroacting said knowledge to before times? Who knows.

Whatever the case, The Collector was the first Fowles book I read, so I’ve not got much to say about the man himself.

The Collector

I bought The Collector (best estimate) five years ago, at the time of writing. So, early 2013.

I was in my final year at University and one of my housemates suggested it to me, giving me a brief outline.

A psychological thriller about a socially inept butterfly collector who kidnaps a girl.

What more could one need to know!

Anyway, I did what I so often do. I went out (/ sat at my computer) and bought the book. When it arrived I placed it on my bookshelf then began an aggressive campaign of not reading it.

I did like the premise, but I suppose its classic status and the fact Fowles wrote it in the 60s put me off.

I find the style of books from such an era tend to be slow – bogged down in needless pontificating and irrelevance. Making them bloody hard work to get through.

Like an Oscar film.

Still, Man vs Bookshelf generated enough interest for this book that I was glad to pick it up.

That’s what I did. Here are my thoughts.

Inverting the Classic Formula

The story is about a lonely, socially underdeveloped man, unable to talk to his obsession. Miranda.

This changes upon his winning a lot of money on the pools. Following this, he quits his job, buys an isolated house in the country, and kidnaps Miranda.

The true way to any girls heart.

(Note. That’s a joke, not advice. I do not want to end up on the news being quoted by some nutter. Thanks.

(Note 2. That being said, if you, as a nutter, do feel the need to quote me on the news following your botched kidnapping, please at least direct people to my Amazon author page. Thanks.)

Story aside, the first surprise was the pacing, which was nothing like one would expect from a 60s classic.

It was fast, no messing. Fowles introduces us to our ‘hero’, who wins his money, forms his plan, buys the house, and gets on with the kidnapping.

From this point on, everything is set in and around the house. A set up that often leads to slow-moving, boring plots.

Not this time. Within our small set, we get to know Frederick (the kidnapper) and Miranda. We see the ever-shifting dynamic between the two as the always engaging story moves along.

Big tick one for The Collector. Fowles doesn’t waste a single page. It all adds to the story at hand, keeping us gripped from beginning to end.

Then, of course, we have the characters.

Our leading lad and lady

What do we like in our leading ladies and gentlemen?

Flawed, yes, but also decent, even if only deep down.

Smart or determined or possessing some great talent others do not.

Good looking? Yep, that helps.

The thing about our lead here, Frederick, is he does not tick many boxes. At least not in any obvious ways.

He is socially inept, he is not handsome or particularly intelligent, he is certainly no hero. He’s flawed, but in the kind of way we readers do not usually enjoy. Namely, he’s a kidnapper.

Frederick has all the hallmarks of a character we, as readers, should not warm too. Traits that should make us turn from him, and the book as a result.

And yet, Frederick is strangely compelling.

Written in first person we get right up in Frederick’s head from page one, and Fowles writes him so well. He creates a sympathetic character and one who remains so, even as he is performing terrible acts.

Fowles eases us into his mind, and as we see his intentions clearly, we are able to nod and say “well, okay then”. Even as he is chloroforming Miranda and chucking her in the back of a van, or worse.

We find it easier to understand Frederick because he is not your average kidnapper. He does not do any of the horrible things we expect kidnappers to do. He’s no rapist. No murderer. He just wants Miranda to get to know him.

Hey, I get it, that’s still awful. But we want to understand Frederick, and Fowles gives us the chance to do so.

It’s this that’s the sign of a great writer. Taking a character we should all despise and making him likeable. Making us sympathise with him, even if we never route for him.

This is all helped by the developing dynamic between kidnapper and victim, Miranda.

I don’t know if Fowles has ever kidnapped anyone. I know I rarely have. But the frequent changes in Miranda’s mood and reactions to Frederick are perfect.

There is no consistent, unending hate for her captor. Instead, Miranda bounces between states. She goes from frightened, to pitying, to hatred, to misery. Her moods informed by fluctuating levels of loneliness, fear and desperation. It feels real, right through the book.

So the pacing is right. The characters are compelling. And it’s all helped by the…


If there’s one thing I hate (and there isn’t, there’s lots) it’s books written in diary form. Or, even worse, via newspaper clippings.

Step forward books such as Carrier by Stephen King. Congratulations, you’re annoying.

Also bestseller, beloved by many, made into at least two films, so what do I know?

Anyway, Frederick narrates the first chunk of the book, right up to the climax, timeline wise.

Part two then takes us back to a week after the kidnapping and we get to relive it again by way of Miranda’s secret diary.

And, despite my reservations about diaries as a form of storytelling, this works well.

As mentioned, Fowles creates a fantastic dynamic between the characters. This is only supported by the structure.

Seeing everything from Frederick’s POV, then through Miranda’s diary creates a brilliant story. We get the layers of both characters stories, seen from both sides, dragging the reader deeper in.

So, while this format is not usually my favourite, Fowles proves what he set out to – that there are forms of diarised storytelling that I will enjoy.

And all three decades before I was born!

Sum Up

Well, it’s a big thumbs up from me.

I felt like I was being turned away from a restaurant despite booking because this book overturned my reservations.

It was never dull, never sill, and believable and engaging throughout.

Plus, the ending, where so many books fall down, is great. A true chilling end to a quality book.

It’s four stars from me on Goodreads.

If only John Fowles was still alive.

That’d make his life.

Next Time

Uhhhh, Cirque Du Freak, I think?

I’m writing a couple of reviews at once and I’m reading a couple of books further on from this review.

But, yeah, I think it’s Cirque Du Freak by YA horror legend, Darren Shan.

Look forward to that or something else!


Series Navigation<< Man vs Bookshelf: PeleMan vs Bookshelf: Cirque Du Freak >>
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International worst-selling author Mark Ayre has been writing since before he could pick up a pen (somehow). An author of mystery and suspense novels including the James Perry Series of mysteries.

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