I guess since reading that Bradbury, I’ve been in the mood for some more science fiction. So I just finished book #10 (!!): The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells, and it was great. This is my first Wells, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but he’s really great. It made me wish I owned The War of the Worlds to follow up with.
Anyway, as the title so aptly points out, this book is about an invisible man. It’s a simple concept – and the first words of the introduction by M.T. Anderson – because who hasn’t wanted to, at one point or another, be invisible? Or at least wondered what that would be like? So the novel is really cool because it takes you inside that realm of possibility, but portrays invisibility as a frustrating burden rather than a cool party trick, like you might expect.
Wells is really great at making impossible circumstances sound like commonplace events, so the reader is much less likely to focus on the improbability of what’s being described, but rather get caught up in it, no matter how unrealistic it is. This is a cool skill for a writer to have, I think. I can easily become absorbed in the action of a story if I can relate to the situation, but if I’m just as easily becoming absorbed in a plot with a completely foreign course of events, and events that could never actually happen, then that is impressive.
So I found the whole story about the invisible man to be really sad. He’s not a particularly likable character, and you don’t get a physical description until the end, so it’s not like you can even picture anyone. (Obviously, he’s invisible.) But he’s clearly got some issues, and lusts after power or knowledge or some combination thereof, and it was sad to me. He’s so misguided, but he had so much potential. But then, maybe he didn’t, and maybe that was the point of the story: that invisibility (or insert any trait or feat that defies the laws of nature for the pursuit of power) can only lead to madness, and then ultimately an untimely demise.
Sorry, I’ve kind of been alluding to spoilers. Everyone probably read this already in a high school English class or something, so oh well. But the book really made me think, which is a good thing, and what books are supposed to do. The ideas weren’t necessarily complex or brand new, but something about the way Wells told the story made it seem like they were, which was cool.
It also made me consider how people react and naturally fear what they don’t understand, and how fear and misunderstanding makes people act instinctively and in ways that they’ll most likely later regret. Which is sad, and which is sadly still a very applicable lesson even today, well over a century after this book came out.
In a much more of a fun and lighthearted way, the book also made me think about the logistics of being invisible. Do invisible people wear clothes, that become invisible with them? (In this novel, no. Poor guy had to be naked always.) What about eating? (You can see the food coming down… and going out, ew.) Smoking cigars? (That provides an example of really, really cool imagery in the novel: the smoke is visible in his mouth and throat, so you get this depiction of contained, opaque smoke in midair. Really cool image.) Anyway, all these questions that came up about being invisible in a bustling world helped make me a little more sympathetic toward the invisible man and the countless frustrations he must have felt on a daily basis, that probably led directly to his freaking out and losing it.
Very good book, and I like Wells’ writing. Sometimes, 19th century literature intimidates me because I have to mentally readjust my vocabulary so I don’t get hung up on the old-fashioned phrases and terminology. But Wells’ writing style is so simple and straightforward, it wasn’t something I had to consciously consider at all.
I’m also pleasantly surprised to find myself liking science fiction, a genre I hadn’t really considered beyond the classics like Orwell and Huxley. Obviously, Wells is numbered among these classics, and often considered one of the originals, I think, so now I seem a little ignorant. But everyone has to start in a genre somewhere. ◊
Alone — it is wonderful how little a man can do alone! To rob a little, to hurt a little, and there is the end.”
– Thoughts of an invisible man, 161