Wednesday, 21 January 2015

The Classics Club: The Invisible Man, by H.G. Wells

I'm back in blogosphere after almost two years of an incredible slump in my reading habits (or any habits in fact, but that's another story...).  

I've started again - baby steps -  to read at a regular pace (at least half an hour in the mornings, when all is still quiet) and I am easing my way into the world of book challenges as well. It is for this reason that I wanted to commence my participation with something easy, with a taste of light reading.  

A classic novella fits this bill perfectly, I believe.  The Invisible Man, by H.G. Wells, is a well-known specimen and it will serve nicely as my first attempt in the 2015 challenges!

Who (in my age group) has not watched the Invisible Man while growing up?  I still remember these episodes with much fondness, because they were so revolutionary... and I'm talking about the 20th century.  I was excited to read H.G. Wells' novella, given that it was originally written in 1897.  If I was mesmerised with the episodes in the 1970s, how must people have felt reading this book almost a century before...

We find ourselves in Iping, Sussex, where "folk have few superstitions" and "are perhaps the most matter-of-fact people under the sun".  Well, I keep that in mind because I wouldn't want the incidents to follow to be just old wives' tales...

Two things about Iping:  their dialect is fairly difficult for a non-native and, judging from web images, is really picturesque ...

Anyhow, a stranger appears one cold February day in the Coach and Horses inn, asking for a room with a fire.  His appearance is abhorring - he's badly patched up and almost immediately Mrs. Hall, the owner, is suspicious of him.  The stranger keeps to his room, and does not wish to be disturbed.

His manners are fairly irritable and little by little everyone has a nasty comment to make:  he's "a piebald", "an Anarchist in disguise, preparing explosives".  It's also no wonder that everyone wants to catch a glimpse of this stranger, to peek into his room, read his papers... 

Wells writes in plain, unadorned language, not only to capture the people around this stranger but also to better reflect the essence of the story.  The plot is fast-paced on its own with no need for additional weight.  The stranger has had enough with the pestering of the people of Iping.  He ups his game and he's found out - to his displeasure:

"... it happens I'm invisible.  It's a confounded nuisance, but I am.  That's no reason why I should be poked to pieces by every stupid bumpkin in Iping, is it?"

Griffin, the invisible man, is forced to abandon his calm surroundings when his story gets published and people go looking for him.  He can trust noone and leaves in a hurry.  He ends up in the house of Kemp, a person he knows from the past, to ask for help retrieving the books that are at the source of his condition. Kemp is amazed to see the invisible man become visible - when he's smoking.  They get to talk about the origins of invisibility:

"the whole fabric of a man except the red of his blood and the black pigment of hair, are all made up of transparent, colourless tissue.  So little suffices to make us visible one to the other"

But it does not end there.  We now witness the frustration the invisible man feels and how he intends to get revenge:

"this invisibility, in fact, is only good in two cases: it's useful in getting away and it's useful in approaching.  It's particularly useful therefore in killing"

It's from this point onwards that everything happens very fast.  I can feel the agony but also the restlessness of Griffin and I fully sympathise.  A scientist who is stripped of his studies and is hunted around the county like the worst criminal is almost justified to react like Griffin does.  

The ending is "politically correct", which is a bit of let-down.  I guess that in late 19th century, people would already feel bewildered after reading this plot - to introduce an alternative ending would just be too much.  I can also understand why subsequent audiences were eager to further explore the field of invisibility...

Read for the Back to the Classics and Reading England challenges

Following this book, I had (of course) to find out about all the film/TV adaptations.  I was amazed to see how many there exist (including parodies of all sorts...).  My childhood memories stem from the 1958 TV adaptation, but I've now watched several episodes of the 1975 series and the 1984 mini-series, and they're not bad either...

I leave you with the trailer for the original adaptation of all, the beautiful 1933 film The Invisible Man, starring the great Claude Rains:


  1. I've got this one on my TBR pile as well. Funny thing about H G Wells - I never think his plots sound very appealing, but I always end up enjoying them. Time Machine is my favourite.

    Looking forward to this one! :)




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