Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Review: The Invisible Man

H G Wells: Did you know that he invented table-top wargaming?
'The Invisible Man' was a strange book. Another iconic story, but all I had before this was a few scenes from a black and white movie. So I didn't know what to expect, and at first the prose sounded very flat and pedestrian. (Probably a Joseph Conrad hangover) The first third of the novel is frustrating: I grasp the concept of an invisible man easily enough, but have to wait while some comical rustics have humourous adventures discovering the monster in their midst. It is unfair to blame Wells for this, as the first readers needed some coaching, no doubt, but I wanted things to develop more quickly.
I was rewarded from the moment the Invisible Man himself starts to make his confession, so to speak, and Wells is at his best, given a brilliantly thought out description of the experience of being invisible. The delight is in the detail; I never thought, that because his eyelids were transparent, that he would have difficulty sleeping, that he would have to take care after eating, that his undigested food didn't give him away. That he would always be cold and unable to move about in rain or snow.
It is interesting that Wells makes the invisible man an evil sort of chap, even before he was invisible. The recent film (which I have not seen) suggested (I believe) that being invisible would make a person immoral: that without the eyes of the world on us, we would run riot. I was keen to explore this idea in the book, but it is not there: Wells makes him go mad, but he was fairly unstable to begin with.
Would being invisible make us immoral? Would we use the power to spy on loved ones, and steal consumer electronics?
The only thought I had was this: When the internet was young, it seemed like an anonymous sort of place, where your acts were untraceable. So we all started using Napster, proving, to some, the immoral-if-invisible argument. However, for that to have worked, we also all had to have GIVEN AWAY all our music, in order for the system to be populated. A Napster full of thieves would have had no music. Perhaps being invisible makes us altruistic, as long as it's free.

(The two super powers I always hankered after were flight (classic extrovert) and invisibility (classic introvert). What would it mean to have both at once?)


Anonymous said...

x-ray vision and the ability to breath underwater were always a dream as a boy! Interesting review..will you be reading any more HG wells?

Stewart Wills said...

You didn't tell us what's next, Chris!

ChrisHughes said...

scotstoon; Do you remember Vacuum Cleaner Girl from Viz, who solved crimes using nothing but an old hoover. With no magic abilities at all? Ooh, the suspense!
Stewart: Argh! You got me! "The Red Badge of Courage" by Stephen Crane.

Anonymous said...

Hey Chris, Just a thought but how about a link to Libravox on your blog! and maybe a link to the guttenberg text of each book you review...might be helpful to some poor lost souls!

ChrisHughes said...

You're right: and it will be another excuse for some techy-style tinkering! Check out my l33t skillz in the future...