Genre: thriller, classic
Narrative style: First person from two different perspectives, chronological
Synopsis: Loner Frederick collects butterflies and obsesses over a beautiful stranger, Miranda. When he wins some money, he buys a cottage and abducts Miranda, keeping her in the cellar of his cottage.
Time on shelf: I only bought this recently but I have been intending to read it since I was a student some 30 years ago.
I was really looking forward to reading this and I was not disappointed. From the very beginning, Frederick is creepy and odd. He is uneducated and poor. He collects butterflies and has no friends. He becomes obsessed with Miranda as she represents everything he wanted – she is middle class, she is educated, she has friends and she seems happy. Frederick has none of her advantages. To him, Miranda is the very embodiment of everything that is good with the world. She sees him as the pathetic specimen he really is – instead of education and opinions, he was moral values which he never deviates from.
At first, it seems that Frederick will never be able to be with Miranda. Apart from his clear oddness, they move in completely different social circles. Then Frederick wins the pools and suddenly he has money which means he can put his plan to abduct Miranda into practise. His win is corrupting because it gives him the freedom and time to do what he wants – something that working class people do not usually have.
Even with Miranda now at his mercy, Frederick is not able to have her. At least, not without using force. He wants her to want him which she never will. He treats her like one of his butterflies, creating the perfect environment for her. Unfortunately for him, he is unable to pin her down like a butterfly. She keeps on trying to escape.
Halfway through the book, the narration changes to Miranda. She keeps a diary from the day of her abduction. I must admit that whilst I had sympathy for her, I found her incredibly annoying. In her own way, she is as self-obsessed as Frederick. She obsesses about her situation – obviously enough – and about a man called G.P. who is an artist. She admires his work and cannot decide if she is in love with him.
G.P. is a philanderer, an artist full of his own importance, giving Miranda advice about art and life that she laps up. She is unable to see that he is no better an option that Frederick. These are the two models of masculinity that Miranda is offered by Fowles – poor, disturbed and uneasy about sex or posh, arrogant and unable to commit to anything more than sex. Poor Miranda.
Both narratives are convincing and Fowles keeps the pace up. It seems inevitable that Fowles will kill Miranda, rather than she will escape. In the end, this is what happens although in a different way then I expected. Frederick then contemplates killing himself to lend the story a tragic romantic air but he changes his mind. Instead, he buries Miranda and sets his sights on a new victim, Marion, sure that he has learned from his experience with Miranda. Also, Marion is not as posh as Miranda nor is she a student so Frederick feels she will be a safer option. The story is definitely not over.
I enjoyed this very much. It was disturbing but also very clever. The class analysis was spot on and still felt relevant. It was possible to see how circumstances had affected Frederick – both his working class beginnings and the fact of winning a lot of money – but Fowles does not really allow the reader to feel sorry for him. Miranda is feisty and tries her best to escape but is thwarted every time. The battle between the two of them is hard fought and while I willed her on every time, I think I always knew she was doomed. The ending was satisfying because it was clear to me that Frederick would try again, that he was too far down the road to be able to have a normal relationship. Definitely worth the read.