‘The Collector’ by Nora Roberts
You guys must think all I read is trash, at this point. Nothing could be further from the truth. I came to Nora Roberts’ The Collector after whipping through Margaret Atwood’s entire ‘MaddAddam’ trilogy within two weeks. I was desperate for a compelling story that I could enjoy without having to think too much about it, and the premise of this one seemed intriguing.
The story starts with Lila Emerson, a professional house-sitter and writer of young adult novels, who is watching a New York City penthouse when she witnesses a murder outside her window. The woman who is pushed out a plate glass window to her death turns out to be a model and the girlfriend of antiquities dealer Oliver Archer, who is also found dead. After giving a statement to the police, Lila encounters Oliver’s brother Ashton, a brooding artist determined to find his brother’s killer. The pair team up to solve the crime, falling in love in the process.
This novel can feel a bit like reading Southern Living or a similar fashion/home decor magazine at times. Lila is in and out of some of the best apartments in New York City, three-story penthouses with terraces and chef’s kitchens. Ash’s apartment is the best of these — an entire three-story former industrial building of some sort, with a grated elevator, third-floor studio space, and no neighbors. These apartments are described with intense, voyeuristic detail, a detail also lavished on Lila’s shopping spree in Florence and her friend Julie’s shoe collection.
But. Let’s talk about Lila for a second. At first blush, she is wonderful. She is, of course, gorgeous, with a “yard” of hair that is inexplicably described as dark brown, but also the color of a mocha (which is surely more…gray? Taupe?). Regardless, gorgeous, with “gypsy eyes” that make Ash want to paint her immediately after he meets her. She’s a free spirit who lives out of two suitcases and spends her time writing about werewolves and fixing things with her Leatherman multi-tool. She is also a strong, independent woman who not only doesn’t need a man, she voices concerns about her relationship with Ash as he becomes more controlling.
And this, perhaps, is what disturbs me most about this book. Overall, it’s fun, and I love the Romanov connection, the high drama, the scenery. As an example of its form (romance — perhaps suspenseful romance?), it’s a good one. Great escapism, in general.
But even something not meant to be taken terribly seriously can be flawed. There are a few scenes in which Ash snaps at Lila, and she responds by telling him he should ask what she needs instead of telling her how things are going to be. This is a man who, to be fair, is used to stepping in and fixing things for his dozen or so hapless siblings. But Lila makes it clear that she doesn’t need her life to be fixed — in fact, she would prefer if he didn’t.
Ultimately, it’s Lila who changes. There are some things that she starts doing that are just part of being in a relationship — calling to check in, compromising on dinner options, relinquishing plans for a long, hot solo shower in order to have surprise shower sex (does this happen to normal people, or only people in books?). But she also ascribes her independence to daddy issues and finally sits back and waits for Ash to rescue her, only surviving because of her love for him. Seriously.
The final message is that if Lila’s life is in danger every moment she’s away from her boyfriend, and that though the threat is ultimately resolved, his job is to protect her for the rest of her life. That doesn’t seem fair to anyone, does it?