Tuesday, June 21, 2011

408. The Vicar of Wakefield – Oliver Goldsmith

History: This book was written in 1761 and 1762, and published in 1766, and was one of the most popular and widely read 18th-century novels among Victorians. The novel can be regarded as a fictitious memoir, as it is told by the vicar himself by retrospection.
Plot: Dr Primrose, his wife Deborah and their six children live an idyllic life in a country parish. The vicar is wealthy due to investing an inheritance he received from a deceased relative, and the vicar donates the £34 that his job pays annually to local orphans and war veterans. On the evening of his son George's wedding to wealthy Arabella Wilmot, the vicar loses all his money through the bankruptcy of his merchant investor who left town with his money.
The wedding is called off by Arabella's father, who is known for his prudence with money. George, who was educated at Oxford and is old enough to be considered an adult, is sent away to town. The rest of the family move to a new and more humble parish on the land of Squire Thornhill, who is known to be a womanizer. On the way, they hear about the dubious reputation of their new landlord. Also, references are made to the squire's uncle Sir William Thornhill, who is known throughout the country for his worthiness and generosity.
A poor and eccentric friend, Mr. Burchell, whom they meet at an inn, rescues Sophia from drowning. She is instantly attracted to him, but her ambitious mother does not encourage her feelings.
Then follows a period of happy family life, interrupted only by regular visits of the dashing Squire Thornhill and Mr. Burchell. Olivia is captivated by Thornhill's hollow charm, but he also encourages the social ambitions of Mrs. Primrose and her daughters to a ludicrous degree.
Finally, Olivia is reported to have fled. First Burchell is suspected, but after a long pursuit Dr. Primrose finds his daughter, who was in reality deceived by Squire Thornhill. He planned to marry her in a mock ceremony and leave her then shortly after, as he had done with several women before.
When Olivia and her father return home, they find their house in flames. Although the family has lost almost all their belongings, the evil Squire Thornhill insists on the payment of the rent. As the vicar cannot pay, he is brought to gaol.
Afterwards is a chain of dreadful occurrences. The vicar's daughter, Olivia, is reported dead, Sophia is abducted, and George too is brought to gaol in chains and covered with blood, as he had challenged Thornhill to a duel when he had heard about his wickedness.
But then Mr. Burchell arrives and solves all problems. He rescues Sophia, Olivia is not dead, and it emerges that Mr. Burchell is in reality the worthy Sir William Thornhill, who travels through the country in disguise. In the end, there is a double wedding: George marries Arabella, as he originally intended, and Sir William Thornhill marries Sophia. Squire Thornhill's servant turns out to have tricked him, and thus the sham marriage of the Squire and Olivia is real. Finally, even the wealth of the vicar is restored, as the bankrupt merchant is reported to be found.
Review: Oliver Goldsmith's hugely successful novel of 1766 remained for generations one of the most highly regarded and beloved works of eighteenth-century fiction. It depicts the fall and rise of the Primrose family, presided over by the benevolent vicar, the narrator of a fairy-tale plot of impersonation and deception, the abduction of a beautiful heroine and the machinations of an aristocratic villain. By turns comic and sentimental, the novel's popularity owes much to its recognizable depiction of domestic life and loving family relationships.
Opening Line: “The description of the family of wakefield, in which a kindred likeness prevails, as well of minds as of persons
I was ever of opinion, that the honest man who married and brought up a large family, did more service than he who continued single and only talked of population.”
Closing Line: “It now only remained that my gratitude in good fortune should exceed my former submission in adversity.”
Quotes: “The virtue which requires to be ever guarded is scarcely worth the sentinel.”
Rating: Not good.

407. The Unconsoled - Kazuo Ishiguro

History: This book was written in 1995.
Plot: Ryder, a classical pianist who has been invited to the city to give a concert. Ryder arrives, only to find himself perpetually puzzled by an inability to remember why exactly he is there or where he is supposed to be next at any given moment, and under siege from the maddeningly solicitous and demanding local citizens. The novel takes place over a period of three days.
Review: Considered distinct from his other works, The Unconsoled was described as a "sprawling, almost indecipherable 500-page work" that "left readers and reviewers baffled". It received strong negative reviews with a few positive ones. Literary critic James Wood said that the novel had "invented its own category of badness".
While there is no change in Ishiguro’s writing style (it’s stayed the same through all five of his books so far), The Unconsoled is different from all his other work in that it doesn’t permit a "logical reading". Well, actually, the book does give the impression of having a formal structure. It’s about a world-renowned pianist who has come to a (unnamed) central European city to give an important performance, one that somehow also has political connotations for the people of the city. But the narrator, Mr Ryder, seems to have arrived with his mind a clean slate. He learns things about himself and his reason for being in this place only as he goes along: he doesn’t know anything about his schedule and has to be gently rebuked by the organisers; little annoyances and distractions continually detract from his main purpose, although he himself appears unaware of what exactly that purpose is; he meets an unfamiliar woman and her child and begins a conversation with them, o nly to realise after a few minutes that they might be his own estranged wife and son; he encounters figures from his distant past who he hasn’t seen in years, and who have no logical reason for being here; and he meets other people who could be real or could be versions of himself at different stages in his life.
One way of looking at it, I suppose, is that the central character suffers from a form of short-term memory loss (a la the protagonist in the film Memento). But that explanation doesn’t even begin to provide the key to all of The Unconsoled’s mysteries. Ishiguro plays with time and space: a porter delivers a 4-page monologue during an elevator ride that should have taken no more than a few seconds; a hotel employee takes Ryder to the "annexe" which turns out to be a ramshackle hut atop a hill, several minutes’ drive from the hotel; after an exhausting day, Ryder goes to sleep at what seems a perfectly reasonable hour, only to be woken a few minutes later so he can "see to the next item on the agenda". On a conventional plane, the book just doesn’t hold together. This is indeed a nightmare of dislocation, as a reviewer put it.
And yet, remarkably enough, Ishiguro’s themes shine through this confused tapestry. This very enigmatic book is, among other things, about the unrealistic, often debilitating expectations parents have of their children, the demands of a life lived in the public glare, and the myopia that allows people to substitute superficial rewards for the things that really matter (in this context, the novel’s ending, with Ryder happily regarding a sumptuous buffet laid out in front of him in a city tram, blew me away).
Entire passages are very frustrating (from a structural point of view, you have to be at least a little interested in surrealism, otherwise the irritation level is very high). I also have this theory that if it’s the first Ishiguro you read, you’ll hate it. Besides, the themes have to appeal to you, otherwise you’ll be left cold. (Something I haven’t mentioned about the book, incidentally, is that it is also very very funny in parts. But that, again, is if you get drawn into its very strange world.)
To a large degree, the surreal effects are derived from Ishiguro's bending of space throughout the novel. Places that seem far removed from one another turn out to be easily accessed through a series of narrow passages or underground tunnels, much like I imagine mazelike corridors beneath DisneyWorld (itself a rather surreal space). While a number of reviewers use this feature to bolster their argument that the novel represents a dream, it most reminded me of how individuals suffering from dementia attempt to rationalize their disorientation.
Once I made this connection, I read the remainder of the book in the context of Ryder (a concert pianist called to an unnamed Eastern European city to assist with an artistic crisis) as an individual with dementia. He is, like those suffering from dementia, apathetic toward others and seemingly unconcerned by how his behavior might affect them. A diagnosis of dementia would also explain his seeming ability to know what people are thinking and the events that have occurred just prior to his entering a room. He is delusional, and his delusions serve the functional purpose of helping him fill in the blanks of his increasingly porous memory. Ryder displays other symptoms of dementia, including a lack of attention to personal appearance (he attends a number of functions in his dressing gown), impaired judgment (he leaves his son alone for hours at a cafe), disrupted sleep cycle, attention deficits, and impulsivity.
The novel is punctuated by analepsis and a consistent hiatus of communication as Ryder tries to understand what his purpose is in the city. Eventually our understanding (filtered through Ryder’s meagre consciousness) is enabled to realise that Ryder is the artistic saviour for the small, musical community, whose culture is desperate for reform and hope.
The Unconsoled is about the elusiveness of identity and the treachery of memory, regret and the hope of redemption. Though its atmosphere is dreamlike, it actually is hyper-realistic, portraying with enigmatic precision of a very high order “real” life as each of us actually experiences it. Like all truly important literature, it raises more questions than it answers
Opening Line: “The taxi driver seemed embarrassed to find there was no one- not even a clerk behind the reception desk – waiting to welcome me.”
Closing Line: “Then, holding it carefully in one hand, my generously laden plate in the other, I began making my way back to my seat.”
Quotes: “I became aware of a single figure walking towards me through the stationary clusters of people.”
“I took a deep breath, a panic now beginning to seize me, and tried again, only to produce another, this time more prolonged, straining noise.”
Rating: Awful

406. Gormenghast – Mervyn Peake

History: This is the second novel in the Gormenghast series. The book was published in 1950.
Plot: Steerpike, despite his position of authority, is in reality a dangerous traitor to Gormenghast who seeks to eventually wield ultimate power in the castle. To this end, he kills Barquentine so that he can replace him and so advance in power. Although he is successful in his murder of Barquentine, the old master of ritual put up such a severe struggle that Steerpike is severely injured in the process, suffering extensive burns and almost drowning. As Steerpike lies recovering in a delirious state from his ordeal, he cries out the words And the twins will make it five. This is overheard by the castle's doctor, Dr Prunesquallor, who is greatly disturbed to hear it. Although the reader is not told this explicitly, Steerpike's words are a clear reference to the number of people he has killed. The reference to the twins is to the aunts of Titus, the twin sisters Ladies Cora and Clarice. Steerpike has effectively been holding them captive in a remote and abandoned part of the castle, and they are utterly dependent on him for food and drink. Due to Steerpike's prolonged recovery he is unable to supply them (and at some level Steerpike is aware of this, even in his delirium), and by the time he has recovered they have already died of thirst and starvation.
Dr Prunesquallor discusses Steerpike's words with the Countess Gertrude, but they disagree over its meaning and the ambiguity over exactly what Steerpike meant is never resolved. Nevertheless, both of them are now thoroughly suspicious about Steerpike and his role in the various disappearances and deaths among the happenings of the castle. Although Steerpike appears to make a full recovery, he is left disfigured with a morbid fear of fire. It also becomes clear that the balance of his mind is increasingly disturbed.
An important parts of Titus' life is spent at school, where he encounters the school professors, especially Bellgrove, one of Titus's teachers, who eventually ascends to Headmaster of Gormenghast. The other teachers are a collection of misfits, each with idiosyncracies of their own, who bicker and compete with each other in petty rivalries, being not unlike a bunch of overgrown schoolboys themselves. A welcome humorous interlude in the novel occurs when Irma Prunesquallor (sister of the castle's doctor), decides to get married, and throws a party in the hope of meeting a suitable partner. To this end she invites the school professors, who are so terrified of meeting a woman that they make fools of themselves in various ways. One professor faints at the prospect of having to speak to Irma and has to be revived by the doctor. When he wakes up he flees naked and shrieking over the garden wall, never to be seen again. Only Bellgrove, recently made headmaster, rises to the occasion and behaves in a gentlemanly way to Irma. Bellgrove and Irma thus begin a rather unusual romance. Bellgrove becomes an important figure in Titus' development. In many respects, he is the standard absent-minded professor who falls asleep during his own class and plays with marbles. However, deep inside him there is a certain element of dignity and nobility. At heart Bellgrove is kindly, and if weak, at least has the humility to be aware of his faults. He becomes something of a father figure to Titus.
An important development for Titus is his brief meeting with his "foster sister" a feral girl known only as 'The Thing', the daughter of Titus' wet-nurse Keda of the Bright Carvers. The Thing, being an illegitimate child, is exiled by the Carvers and lives a feral life in the forests around Gormenghast. Titus first meets her when he escapes from the confines of Gormenghast into the outside world. Titus is entranced by her wild grace, and sets out to meet her. He does so, and holds her briefly, but she flees him and is fatally struck by lightning. However, her fierce independence inspires Titus, and gives him courage to later leave his home.
Due to the vigilance of the old servant Flay Steerpike is eventually unmasked as the murderer of the aunts of Titus, Cora and Clarice. He becomes a renegade within the castle, using his extensive knowledge to hide within its vast regions, and waging a guerilla campaign of random killing with his catapult. Steerpike's capture seems impossible until the entire kingdom of Gormenghast is submerged in a flood, due to endless rains. The mud dwellers are forced to take refuge in the castle and the castle's own inhabitants are also forced to retreat to higher and higher floors as the flood waters keep rising. Fuchsia, grown increasingly melancholic and withdrawn after the death of her father and betrayal by Steerpike, briefly contemplates suicide. At the last moment, she changes her mind, but slips and falls from a window, striking her head on the way down and drowning in the floodwaters. Unaware of the accident when they find her body, both Countess Gertrude and Titus are convinced that Steerpike is to blame, and both resolve to bring the murderer to justice.
So begins an epic manhunt through the rapidly flooding castle, with Steerpike forced into ever smaller areas and eventually surrounded by the castle's forces. Even at this late stage, his ruthlessness and cunning mean that Steerpike almost evades capture. However, Titus realises that he is hiding in the ivy against the castle walls, and full of rage and hatred against Steerpike he pursues and kills him himself. Despite being hailed as a hero, Titus is intent on leaving Gormenghast to explore a wider world, and the novel ends with him dramatically riding away to seek his fortune in the unknown lands outside.
Review: There's nothing else in all of literature quite like the Gormenghast trilogy. A weird, totally original blend of fantasy, gothic, and allegory, with characters out of Dickens by way of Hieronymous Bosch, and looming over it all the mammoth, decaying architecture of Gormenghast, the Groan family castle. The first two books in the series concern the newly born heir, Titus, 77th Earl of Groan, born into an aristocratic family which is completely bound by ancient and inane rules and ceremonies, and the efforts of one rebellious kitchen hand, Steerpike, who is determined to bring the whole artificial edifice, physical and cultural, crumbling to the ground. In the third volume, Titus leaves Gormenghast to seek his fortune in the outside world, a less claustrophobic, but still quite strange and intimidating landscape.
Mervyn Peake was raised in China, where his father was a medical missionary. Coincidentally or not, he was born there in the year (and month) that the child emperor (recall Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Emperor) was overthrown. One can only imagine how bizarre a childhood he must have had, a Christian English boy growing up amidst the poverty of revolutionary China. He returned to England for college, where he studied art and adopted something of a bohemian persona. He joined an artists colony on the Island of Sark, the setting for his novel Mr. Pye. As he began to develop a reputation as an artist, Peake left Sark, in 1935, to become a teacher at Westminster School of Art, where he met his wife, Maeve. World War II broke out just as he began to come into his own, and though he volunteered with the understanding he could be a war artist, he was instead placed in a series of inappropriate jobs until he had a nervous breakdown. He did make it to Germany at the end of the War, arriving at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in time to do sketches of the wraith like survivors and to have the horrors of the place seared into his soul.
He'd begun writing Titus Groan while he was in the army and it was published in 1946. Gormenghast followed in 1950 and both were critically acclaimed. He'd always had an aura of doom about him and was obviously not all that mentally sturdy, but the lingering psychological effects of what he saw in Germany (he returned after the War while the country was still devastated) and a combination of illnesses, including Parkinson's, made his later years quite awful. Titus Alone, the final volume of the trilogy, was published in 1959, his last major work, though he would linger for another ten years.
The allegory of Gormenghast is fairly straightforward, and seems to parallel what Peake had himself witnessed. A once great society rots from within, beset by bureaucracy and senseless ceremony. A servant from the lowest ranks of the society rises up to challenge the established order, but turns out to be more evil than the existing regime. I note--though I doubt it's significant, since I saw it mentioned nowhere else--that you can transpose a few vowels to make the title read "German Ghost." At any rate, it is the case that Peake was in China as it's Empire crumbled, returned to Britain in time to watch it sink after the War, and saw the horrifying aftermath of Nazi Germany's Steerpikean nightmare. In a sense then, Gormenghast tells the story of the Century, of the fall of the upper classes of the old order and their replacement by the even more horrid workers. Though Titus manages to stop Steerpike, he nonetheless abandons Gormenghast to seek a brighter future.
The greatness of Peake's work though does not lie in the story, it instead rests on his accomplishment as a visual storyteller. This is the most painterly form of literature imaginable. It helps that he did illustrations for the books himself, but even without his drawings, the books seem to move from set tableau to set tableau, more like a series of paintings than like a fluid narrative. This great strength of his work is also a significant weakness, because the tale is so two dimensional. With Tolkein, there's such depth to the story--not surprising considering that he created mythology, languages, history, etc. for each of the peoples in the trilogy--that the reader is always conscious of the sense that the teller of the tale could veer off onto any tangent for hundreds of pages without faltering. Gormenghast has more of the feel of a movie set; particular images are brilliantly imagined and realized, but there's nothing behind the image. You never really feel that Peake has given a moment's thought to either the 75th or the 78th Earl of Groan
After a somewhat slow beginning, in which Mervyn Peake first briefly summarizes Titus Grown by drawing up a list of which characters have died or gone missing, then introduces the reader with the plethora of new characters that are the teachers of Titus, the now seven-year-old seventy-seventh Earl of Gormenghast, the pace hopefully picks up again. And as the pages turn, the story becomes more and more exciting.
Irma Prunesquallor's party, and then her romance and the way the whole affair eventually backfires on Wellgrove, although it does not push the plot further, were fun to read. Titus's growing love for his sister Fuchsia, and at the same time his attempts at shunning both the physical prison that is Gormenghast castle and the mental cage that is its sacrosanct ritual, attempts that lead him into the mysterious forest where lurks the Thing, and to the grotto where Flay has taken shelter, were passionating. Finally, Steerpike's mischievious, murderous ambition, and the others' suspicions that gradually turn into evidences, and the memorable chases in the shadowy maze of the fortress that ensue, were purely mind-boggling.
Mervyn Peake's characters are so complex that in the end you like the ones you despised and hate the ones you loved in the first book. His words give life to such an amazing imagery, it vibrates and dazzles, it's intoxicating.
Peake has been compared to Dickens, Tolkien, and Peacock, but the Gormenghast trilogy is truly unique. Unforgettable characters with names like Steerpike and Prunesquallor make their way through an architecturally stifling world, with lots of dark corners around to dampen any whimsy that might arise. This true classic is a feast of words unlike anything else in the world of fantasy. The plot is murderous - literally, with intrigue and betrayal, madness and merciless violence.
Opening Line: “Titus is seven.”
Closing Line: “Haunted by the thought of this other kind of world which was able to exist without Gormenghast.”
Quotes: “Withdrawn and runinous it brooods in umbra: the immemorial masonry: the towers, the tracks. Is all corroding? No. Through an avenue off spires a zephyr floats; a bird whistles; a freshet bears away from a choked river. Deep in a fist of stone a doll's hand wriggles, warm rebellious on the frozen palm. A shadow shifts its length. A spider stirs...
And darkness winds bewteen the characters.”
Rating: Good

405. The Collector - John Fowles

History: This book was published in 1963.
Plot: The Collector is the story of the abduction and imprisonment of Miranda Grey by Frederick Clegg, told first from his point of view, and then from hers by means of a diary she has kept, with a return in the last few pages to Clegg's narration of her illness and death.
Clegg's section begins with his recalling how he used to watch Miranda entering and leaving her house, across the street from the town hall in which he worked. He describes keeping an "observation diary" about her, whom he thinks of as "a rarity," and his mention of meetings of the "Bug Section" confirms that he is an amateur lepidopterist. On the first page, then, Clegg reveals himself to possess the mind-set of a collector, one whose attitude leads him to regard Miranda as he would a beautiful butterfly, as an object from which he may derive pleasurable control, even if "collecting" her will deprive her of freedom and life.
Clegg goes on to describe events leading up to his abduction of her, from dreams about Miranda and memories of his stepparents or coworkers to his winning a "small fortune" in a football pool. When his family emigrates to Australia and Clegg finds himself on his own, he begins to fantasize about how Miranda would like him if only she knew him. He buys a van and a house in the country with an enclosed room in its basement that he remodels to make securable and hideable. When he returns to London, Clegg watches Miranda for 10 days. Then, as she is walking home alone from a movie, he captures her, using a rag soaked in chloroform, ties her up in his van, takes her to his house, and locks her in the basement room.
When she awakens, Clegg finds Miranda sharper than "normal people" like himself. She sees through some of his explanations, and recognizes him as the person whose picture was in the paper when he won the pool. Because he is somewhat confused by her unwillingness to be his "guest" and embarrassed by his inadvertent declaration of love, he agrees to let her go in one month. He attributes her resentment to the difference in their social background: "There was always class between us."
Clegg tries to please Miranda by providing for her immediate needs. He buys her a Mozart record and thinks, "She liked it and so me for buying it." he fails to understand human relations except in terms of things. About her appreciation for the music, he comments, "It sounded like all the rest to me but of course she was musical." There is indeed a vast difference between them, but he fails to recognize the nature of the difference because of the terms he thinks in. When he shows her his butterfly collection, Miranda tells him that he thinks like a scientist rather than an artist, someone who classifies and names and then forgets about things. She sees a deadening tendency, too, in his photography, his use of cant, and his decoration of the house. As a student of art and a maker of drawings, her values contrast with his: Clegg can judge her work only in terms of its representationalism, or photographic realism. In despair at his insensitivity when he comments that all of her pictures are "nice," she says that his name should be Caliban--the subhuman creature in Shakespeare's The Tempest.
Miranda uses several ploys in attempts to escape. She feigns appendicitis, but Clegg only pretends to leave, and sees her recover immediately. She tries to slip a message into the reassuring note that he says he will send to her parents, but he finds it. When he goes to London, she asks for a number of articles that will be difficult to find, so that she will have time to, try to dig her way out with a nail she has found, but that effort also is futile.
When the first month has elapsed, Miranda dresses up for what she hopes will be their last dinner. She looks so beautiful that Clegg has difficulty responding except with cliches and confusion. When she refuses his present of diamonds and offer of marriage, he tells her that he will not release her after all. She tries to escape by kicking a log out of the fire, but he catches her and chloroforms her again, this time taking off her outer clothing while she is unconscious and photographing her in her underwear.
Increasingly desperate, Miranda tries to kill Clegg with an axe he has left out when he is escorting her to take a bath upstairs. She injures him, but he is able to prevent her from escaping. Finally, she tries to seduce him, but he is unable to respond, and leaves, feeling humiliated. He pretends that he will allow her to move upstairs, with the stipulation that she must allow him to take pornographic photographs of her. She reluctantly cooperates, and he immediately develops the pictures, preferring the ones with her face cut off.
Having caught a cold from Clegg, Miranda becomes seriously ill, but Clegg hesitates to bring a doctor to the house. He does get her some pills, but she becomes delirious, and the first section ends with Clegg's recollection: "I thought I was acting for the best and within my rights."
The second section is Miranda's diary, which rehearses the same events from her point of view, but includes much autobiographical reflection on her life before her abduction. She begins with her feelings over the first seven days, before she had paper to write on. She observes that she never knew before how much she wanted to live.
Miranda describes her thoughts about Clegg as she tries to understand him. She describes her view of the house and ponders the unfairness of the whole situation. She frequently remembers things said by G. P., who gradually is revealed to be a middle-aged man who is a painter and mentor whom Miranda admires. She re-creates a conversation with Clegg over, among other things, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. She gets him to promise to send a contribution, but he only pretends to. She admits that he's now the only real person in her world.
Miranda describes G. P. as the sort of person she would like to marry, or at any rate the sort of mind. She lists various ways he has changed her think- ing, most of which involved precepts about how to live an authentic, committed life. Then she characterizes G. P. by telling of a time that he met her aunt and found her so lacking in discernment and sincerity that he made Miranda feel compelled to choose between him and her aunt. Miranda seems to choose his way of seeing, and he subsequently offers some harsh but honest criticism of her drawing, which seems to help her to become more self-aware and discriminating. Her friends Antoinette and Piers fail to appreciate the art G. P. has produced, and Miranda breaks with her Aunt Caroline over her failure to appreciate Rembrandt. Miranda describes her growing attraction to G. P., despite their age difference and his history of sexual infidelity. In the final episode about him, however, G. P. confesses to being in love with her and, as a consequence, wants to break off their friendship. She is flattered but agrees that doing so would probably be for the best.
Miranda says that G. P. is "one of the few." Her aunt--and Clegg--are implicitly among "the many," who lack creativity and authenticity. Indeed, Miranda associates Clegg's shortcomings with "the blindness, deadness, out-of-dateness, stodginess and, yes, sheer jealous malice of the great bulk of England," and she begins to lose hope. She gets Clegg to read Catcher in the Rye, but he doesn't understand it. Miranda feels more alone and more desperate, and her reflections become more philosophical. She describes her reasons for thinking that seducing Clegg might change him, and does not regret the subsequent failed attempt, but she fears that he now can hope only to keep her prisoner.
Miranda begins to think of what she will do if she ever gets free, including revive her relationship with G. P. on any terms as a commitment to life. At this point, Miranda becomes sick with Clegg's cold, literally as well as metaphorically. As she becomes increasingly ill, her entries in the journal become short, declarative sentences and lamentations.
The third section is Clegg's, and picks up where his first left off. He tells of becoming worried over her symptoms and over her belief that she is dying. When he takes her temperature, Clegg realizes how ill Miranda is and decides to go for a doctor. As he sits in the waiting room, Clegg begins to feel insecure, and he goes to a drugstore instead, where the pharmacist refuses to help him. When he returns and finds Miranda worse, Clegg goes back to town in the middle of the night, to wake a doctor; this time an inquisitive policeman frightens him off. Miranda dies, and Clegg plans to commit suicide.
In the final section, less than three pages long, Clegg describes awakening to a new outlook. He decides that he is not responsible for Miranda's death, that his mistake was kidnapping someone too far above him, socially. As the novel ends, Clegg is thinking about how he will have to do things somewhat differently when he abducts a more suitable girl that he has seen working in Woolworth's.
Review: The Collector established Fowles’ reputation as a writer of what The Sunday Times called, “great imaginative power.” Given that it was a commercial as well as a critical success, he was able to give up his job as a teacher and concentrate on writing full-time. Short, at least in comparison with some of his other books, and immediately engaging, The Collector works by stealth, its creepiness slowly crowding you, until the experience of reading the novel becomes almost as claustrophobic as the captivity in which one of the protagonists is held.
As is often the case with John Fowles, it is the way in which the story is told that provides much of the pleasure. The first part of The Collector is narrated from Frederick’s point of view, the second, from Miranda’s, in diary fragments. Frederick’s detached rationality contrasts with Miranda’s more lyrical, questioning voice. Unlike the neutral, artless tone of Frederick’s narration, Miranda’s account swings through several emotional states, marking moments of resolution and despair, of terror, contempt and stultifying solitude.
Fowles’ ability to create two such distinct voices is one of the great achievements of the novel. In setting up his characters in opposition to one other we are of course invited to choose between them.
Opening Line: “When she was home from her boarding-school I used to see her almost every day sometimes, because their house was right opposite the Town Hall Annexe.”
Closing Line: “It would be “The End”.
Quotes: “I am one in a row of specimens. It’s when I try to flutter out of line that he hates me.”
“The essences. Not the things themselves.
Swimmings of life on the smallest things.
Or am I being sentimental?
I’m so far from everything. From normality. From light. From what I want to be.”
Rating: Okay.