Sunday, July 11, 2010

Double Dutch Book Review: The Collector and Stolen Children

The Collector John Fowles (word count 84044)

Touted as the original psychological thriller.

Tiny synopsis: Fred is a butterfly collector. He wins money in a lottery, sends his family on an extended vacation, buys a house, and decides he wants to bring Miranda, an art student he has been following, to live in his basement.

Whoa. This book was a tough read. I mentioned in an earlier post that my capacity for edginess has greatly diminished with age. I think what I found difficult in this book is that the first third is told by Fred, from his perspective, and you see the whole thing unfolding (his kidnapping Miranda). You see how stealth and methodical he is, and it is both sad and terrifying. She is so fully and wholly trapped.

The second section is told through Miranda’s perspective. It’s heartbreaking. You read about her feeble attempts to escape, and about her life on the outside—the students who were her friends, her family’s problems, the older man who loved her, but whom she always kept at arm’s length.

The final section is told by Fred again, and not to spoil anything, it’s clear he’s not going to change.

It is incredibly well-written. The shifting point of view gives the reader an uncanny perspective on what is happening, what each person is feeling, and how they mis-read each other. Fowles seems not to waste a single word. His writing is precise, almost clinical, but at the same time the story elaborates on many themes. Through the characters’ conversations and writings they cover class issues, communism, socialism, music, film, painting, nuclear annihilation, and other topics.

One thing really bothered me about this book: The fact that the guy is an insect collector. I get it, I know why it works, I see how fitting it is that a person with scary stalker issues --who wants to hold and keep beautiful things-- is an insect collector. It’s clever to give him this hobby, as he makes the transition from butterflies to this girl. I get it. I think it’s a powerful tool in terms of the novel, but at the same time, it really pisses me off.

Here’s the core problem for me. Who decided that bug collectors are mental? I love bugs. I love collecting them, but sometimes I feel like “bug collector” is shorthand in films/books for “person with deep emotional problems”. Was it Silence of the Lambs that did this to our culture? Obviously, The Collector came before SOTL in time… so maybe this book was the start of it all.

The book was good, but it took me a while to get through it. I poked along during Fred’s section, then when I finally got to Miranda’s part I raced through it. Reading the creepy stuff was really difficult for me.

When I first started studying insects I thought I was going to be a forensic entomologist. I spent a lot of time at the library, getting books on true crimes, forensics, etc. I learned a lot. For example—when someone kills a person they often forget to clean the ceiling. They will clean the whole room but forget the ceiling, which is a dead giveaway for the cops.

But after spending several months reading all I could get my hands on about forensics, I decided it wasn’t for me. I thought that looking at dead bodies for decades, trying to understand who had murdered people, would take a toll on me. I felt like it would be a hard life for my soul, if you know what I mean. So I dropped it. This books feels like that for me. It was well crafted, but I feel like reading a lot of his stuff would take a toll on me. So I may read John Fowles again, but sparingly.

Stolen Children by Peg Kehret. (word count 40202) I picked this up at the book fair a few weeks ago. It is a MG suspense/mystery.

Tiny synopsis: 14 year old babysitter Amy has to think on her feet when she and her young charge are kidnapped.

This book was an okay read. I bought it at the book fair because it covers a theme I follow in The Ordinary Life of the Insect Collector (i.e., a smart babysitter dealing with crooks).

This book was okay, and walks just on the edge of being dark. The crooks are real. They are bad guys who have a gun and talk about hurting the main character, but they never touch the kidnap victims, even when they try to run away. Perhaps the plot is a little implausible, but that’s not unheard of in fiction.

As a mom I find it hard to believe your average three year old would not FREAK OUT and have a ROLLING ON THE FLOOR TANTRUM if he/she was kidnapped by two strangers while with a new babysitter for the first time. Each night as they go to sleep the young girl says something about wanting mommy, and after being comforted ever-so-briefly by the sitter, just rolls over and goes to sleep. Again, implausible but not completely over the top.

Other than that, I loved the way Amy tried to sneak clues into the videos the kidnappers made of the children. I thought she was a great example of a clever young girl problem-solving. I love that in life and in books. Smart girls kick ass.

The book was well-written, the plot kept a fast pace, and had me rooting every step of the way for Amy and Kendra to escape. There were enough twists and turns to make me feel like I’d been on a real adventure. It was a quick and easy read.

I enjoyed this book, though I probably will not read another book by the author.

1 comment:

  1. I think the collector was a movie in the 70's by the same name. It was creepy and wigged me out. But I have zero toleration for that sort of stuff too.


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