The Invisible Man by HG Wells
‘His goggling spectacles and ghastly bandaged face under the penthouse of his hat came with a disagreeable suddenness out of the darkness …’
I drew this novella – number 13 on my list of classics – in the Classics Club Spin #8 from November, to be read and reviewed before 15 January.
Wells’s whimsical tale of the ups and downs of invisibility begins in Iping, a typical English village. All the usual characters are there – the vicar, the policeman, the doctor and the pub landlady, suggestive of the start of an Agatha Christie whodunnit. Griffin (we learn his name much later), the eponymous protagonist, rents a room at the inn and begins at once to cause havoc in the neighbourhood. It becomes obvious to the reader that he is quite insane, driven to acts of desperation by some bizarre experiment. He forces Mr Marvel, a tramp, to be his accomplice and when he is chased out of Iping after revealing himself – or maybe un-revealing would be a better word – the two set off for Burdock, the nearest coastal town.
Griffin takes refuge in the house of Dr Kemp, an acquaintance from university medical school, and confides in him the story of his experiments. Fascinated by the subject of optics, he has succeeded in changing his refractive index (!!!). He now tries to enlist Kemp as a partner in a reign of terror. How Kemp reacts and what happens to Griffin occupies the final third of the novella.
‘The Invisible Man amused himself for a little while by breaking all the windows in the Coach and Horses.’
If you are already familiar with HG Wells’s books but haven’t read The Invisible Man, I would not want to discourage you from doing so. It is rather fun. However, it is not a book I would recommend as an introduction to Wells. It is not his best fiction by any means. The War of the Worlds, The History of Mr Polly, and his sci-fi short stories such as The Country of the Blind, In the Abyss or Under the Knife are for me much better reads. In many of the shorts, Wells bends the laws of physics to breaking point but nearly always offers intriguing predictions of what science might one day do – and indeed has done in the century and more since he wrote The Time Machine.
The Invisible Man contains very little science. Instead, it presents us with a moral dilemma: Does our choice of path through life, to do evil rather than good, depend on the likelihood of our being caught and punished?
In Griffin, the choice goes beyond childish mischief to murder and mayhem, and he takes pleasure in it. Where do the rest of us stand?