Monday, October 21, 2013

This is Halloween(?): The Invisible Man

For my second horror read of the season, I chose another H.G. Wells classic I hadn't read before: The Invisible Man.

First, I was always under the wrong impression; this book is not a horror story. Honestly, I don't know what I expected. The Claude Rains film of 1933 is usually grouped with the other Universal Horror films, and while I never thought that film was scary, I figured the book was likely to be so. But nope.

A sizable chunk of the book reads much like a comedy. Wells spends a good portion of the book describing the provincial and silly folk among whom the titular character finds himself. These rather gentle bumpkins take a good bit of verbal abuse and other rude behavior from the Invisible Man, and there is some slapstick and general comedic mayhem as they try to figure out just what the oddly-dressed stranger among them has going on. It seems very meandering to me, as though Wells didn't quite know where to take the story.

Eventually, though, the narrative takes a turn to the sinister as the Invisible Man, whom we learn is named Griffin, has to flee the little town he was staying in. He chances upon and consequently terrorizes a hobo into doing his bidding. It starts out fairly light-hearted, with the two moving around the countryside and going back to the town to retrieve Griffin's notebooks. It goes downhill when the tramp decides (almost inexplicably, really) to steal the books and run off.

This leads to what passes for an antagonist to the Invisible Man, and the closest the reader gets to a hero in the story. Kemp, an old schoolmate of Griffin, just happens to live near where the tramp flees, and after a few coincidences that seem to me as though Wells wanted to hand-wave past some gaps in his narrative, Griffin holes up in Kemp's house.

We learn how Griffin came upon his discovery of the secret to invisibility in a sizable flashback to London of a few months earlier. We see him experimenting on wool, a cat, and himself, after which he mails off his notebooks to retrieve later, then sets fire to the boarding house he lives in to destroy all evidence of his experiments. Seems precipitous to me, seeing as how it's snowing out and he's stark naked. He tries to steal from a department store, fails, then robs a costume shop. There are some interesting moments interspersed throughout, with Wells dealing with some implications of being invisible - dirt and snow can reveal him, and an invisible person has to be constantly watching out for other people, animals, and vehicles when in a crowded area. It's interesting, but after a while the narrative seems to be meandering again.

In the present, Griffin begins laying out his plans for a reign of terror, with Kemp as his partner. It seems ludicrous, really, because even an invisible man is just one guy, and has to run around naked, to boot. Maybe that was Wells' point; all along, he has painted Griffin as hot-tempered, arrogant, and prone to acting before thinking. He's also a psychopath; he describes how he robbed from his father to pay for his experiments, and the money turns out not to be his father's. The old man commits suicide, and Griffin cold-bloodedly brushes the whole thing off. Along with a murder (possibly two; the costume shop owner he robbed he knocked out, and may well have killed him), it's pretty good evidence this guy is a jackass of the highest order. So while it's plausible that he would want to start a one-(invisible)-man reign of terror, it still seems kind of stupid that he thought that was any kind of plan.

Kemp, meanwhile, has been biding time. He let the law know the invisible man was in his house, but after a typically clumsy attempt at capturing the villain, he's back on the loose. Griffin besieges the house, shoots a cop, breaks out all the windows, and generally misbehaves until he actually makes it into the house. Kemp hot-foots it away, and after a general running brouhaha, Griffin is dogpiled and beaten to death.

Then we get an epilogue where the tramp, years later, is a successful innkeeper. Denying the invisible man's notebooks were still in his possession, we get a special moment where he drags them out of hiding to read at night. 

Well then.

All in all, while the book is readable, it seems very scatterbrained. I usually read with the intent of sussing out what deeper meaning the author was trying to convey, but to tell the truth, I couldn't really dredge up much of anything here besides obvious stuff like being a jackass can be exacerbated by having an advantage no one else has. If anyone else can point me to some subtext, I'm more than happy to read about it.

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