Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells

Why I Read It: Whim. Was scanning through my Kindle for something "new."

Summary: A doctor-turned-physicist discovers the secret of human invisibility (it has to do with light refraction) and goes on a naked, invisible rampage.

My Thoughts: For it's time, it must have been quite the sensation. Wells certainly had the touch.

I think for me, though, there was a lot of baseline comedy that made the book even more enjoyable. Let's face it - the story is more than 100 years old and has been done to death in movies, etc. (My favorite spoof was with Ed Begley, Jr., in Amazon Women on the Moon). The concept is not as shocking as it once was.

Then there's the setting, late small-town Victorian England, the land of pubs. Everybody has an overwritten accent, every person a classic caricature to today's reader. And there's even a Monty Python moment. When the Invisible Man, who we come to know as Griffin, meets the wanderer Mr. Thomas Marvel for the first time, he gets frustrated by Marvel's noncommittal stance on aiding him. The Invisible Man ultimately says that if Marvel doesn't help him, he will throw flints at him until he acquiesces. This sort of minor punishment just struck me as reminiscent of a famous line from Monty Python and the Holy Grail: "Very well. If you do not appease us, we will say 'Ni' to you."

The pace of this book is excellent, making it a true thriller. Even during the lengthy conversation between Griffin and his college contemporary, Kemp, the story moves. The beauty of the concept is that being invisible, Griffin can (ironically) appear in the book at any time, leaving that constant air of mystery when any other characters are conversing without him. There are exceptions, of course. When he eats, food must assimilate into his system; Marvel asks him when he first meets him whether or not he's recently eaten bread and cheese. When it rains, mud outlines his bare feet, and two young boys watch his feet run down the street.

I think we are left with the ultimate question of "did the process of becoming invisible make him go crazy, was it the realization afterward that his life had forever been altered, or was he a loony before this all happened (perhaps explaining why he did this to himself in the first place)?" The guy is bordering on pure evil. He plans a reign of terror. He murders. He steals. He wantonly hurts others for what seems like fun.

The fact is, though, that if he was not nuts, the book would have gone nowhere. Had he been a proper late Victorian British gentleman, the tale would have been boring as hell. Wells chose his character well, giving him delusions of despotism.