Saturday, November 27, 2021

Novellas in November: The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells

This is a classic science fiction novella about a man who discovers how to turn himself invisible and decides to do it, thinking that his invisibility will give him an advantage over people. In reality, he discovers that it makes his life both uncomfortable and problematic.

It is difficult to describe my reaction to reading The Invisible Man. For one thing, I had seen the 1933 film adaptation at least once before, thus I had that story in my mind when reading the book. That film differs from the book significantly. Had I come to the book with no preconceived notions, that might have made a difference. Secondly, the story is very brief, about 155 pages in the edition I read. Thus I find it hard to tell about the story without revealing too much. 

Once I got about half way into the story, I realized that it was much simpler and more focused than the movie version. A stranger comes to the Coach and Horses in Iping and seeks a room and a sitting room where he can set up a lab to work in. He is bundled up in a strange way, only his nose can be seen, and he seems peculiar and cantankerous. As he has arrived in the winter when they have few guests, the husband and wife who run the place are glad of the money, until they find out how disruptive his presence can be. Even then, they put up with him for months because he continues to pay his bills. 

Eventually the stranger runs out of money and gets thrown out of his room. He resists, and in the course of an altercation he removes his clothes and they realize that he is invisible. They try to keep him there, but he escapes. And the reader begins to realize that the invisible man is not just a man in trouble, looking for a solution to his strange state, but that he has no concern for others, for their safety or their feelings. He is quite willing to endanger or harm people to get what he wants. 

The rest of the story is concerned with revealing how the invisible man got that way, how it has affected him, and his plans for his future. He serendipitously runs into an old friend from medical school and enlists his help.

Personally, I found this book to be a disappointment, but I cannot describe the things that led to that opinion without telling more than I want to reveal about the story. I was interested while reading it and I thought the writing was fine, but I wanted a more exciting or meaningful story, and it did not impress me in that way. The book is a classic and definitely worth reading but it was not a story I cared much for. However, I want to stress that many readers have enjoyed the story much more than I did.

The story is told in third person, and I think this reader might have had some sympathy for the main character it it had been in first person and told in a more personal way. 

I think this book is more about issues but somehow that did not work for me. Kate at crossexaminingcrime wrote an excellent in-depth review of the book, discussing the various ideas that can be found in this work. Please see her review.

A few days after I read the book we watched the 1933 film adaptation of The Invisible Man again. It was directed by James Whale, and Claude Rains made his American film debut as the invisible man. Gloria Stuart played the love interest, a role that does not exist in the book. I can understand why it was decided to provide more of a backstory for the invisible man in the film. The early part of the book is condensed quite a bit in the film, and that is also understandable. The filmmakers used groundbreaking special effects in making a story in which the main character is never seen. 

I read this for Classics Week in the Novellas in November 2021 reading event. The host blogs are 746 Books and Bookish Beck.


Publisher:   Race Point Publishing, 2017 (original pub. 1897)
Length:       155 pages
Format:       Hardcover
Settings:     UK
Genre:        Science fiction
Source:       Purchased in 2020.


Rick Robinson said...

I have generally found Wells to be inferior to Jules Verne when it comes to adventure and fun plot, but Wells tried harder with science. I haven’t read this, but have seen 2 movie versions. Nice restrained review.

TracyK said...

Rick, I found two books by Jules Verne at the book sale in September. Journey to the Center of the Earth, in a nice trade paperback edition, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, paperback with a nice cover, but tiny print.

I still plan to read The Time Machine by Wells some day.

Jerry House said...

Although advertised as based on Wells's novel, the 1933 film was actually based on two novels, the other being Philip Wylie's THE MURDERER IVISIBLE. This may explain why much of the film differs from the Wells novel.

Neeru said...

I read this in college, Tracy and felt quite sympathetic towards the invisible man but my friend didn't like him and felt that he could have been more polite to and caring of others. Don't know how I'll read the book or the protagonist now.

TracyK said...

Jerry, thanks for that information, it is very interesting. I looked up the book and author a bit, and it does sound like it was an influence on the film. Too bad they did not give him credit.

TracyK said...

Neeru, I did wonder what impression I would have had of the book if I had read it when I was younger. As I got deeper into the story I hoped for more understanding of the invisible man and his motivations. I could work up no sympathy with him or his plight.

John Kerry said...

I'm afraid all I have read is the Classics Illustrated version of the story, Mind you I did enjouy that one so I might enjoy the novel/novella as well. I have read some of Wells' shorter fiction which I for the most part enjoyed. I also have read a very strident attack on the Roman Catholic church he wrote. That was interesting.
Interestingly the British television show was entitled H.G Wells' Invisible Man but was totally unrelated for the most part to the book. Not a bad show though.

TracyK said...

John, I just took a look at the novels and other works that Wells wrote and he wrote a lot more than I realized. The Time Machine is the next one I would try. That is interesting about the British television show.

Cath said...

I have read this but could not remember a lot about it, so it couldn't have made much of an impression. I also suspect this is not one of Wells' best books. I remember reading The War of the Worlds and The Time Machine in my teens and being blown away. I also recall loving The History of Mr. Polly but whether I would now is another matter. Last year or the year before I read his short story The Crystal Egg which is a kind of precursor to The War of the Worlds and I loved that. My suspicion is that Wells is patchy and there are things that appeal and things that don't. Like John I remember a TV series starring David McCallum but it bore no relation to the story whatsoever. LOL

TracyK said...

Cath, I will definitely be trying more by H. G. Wells. I will have to see if I can find some short stories too. I can see that the idea of the Invisible Man would inspire a lot of different types of stories. It seems that they would be expensive to film though.