H. G. Wells is synonymous with Science Fiction. As a fan of sci-fi I have to shamefully admit that this is my first Wells for he is often referred to as one of the Fathers of this genre. It is clearly evident why he is heralded as such.
Wells opens his story not with an introduction to the Invisible Man and how he came to be in this incredible state, but with a stranger seeking lodging in a small English village in Iping. He is curt and highly secretive and when strange occurances, including an odd burglary coincide with his arrival, local tongues are sent wagging and suspicions are aroused. It is not long before the Invisible Man is revealed and he soon escapes leaving chaos and many victims behind him.
When he finds an old school acquaintance in the neighboring village, it is to this man Kemp that he pours his story out to. He is Griffin, who left their mutual medical school to study in the field of optics. Here is where Wells’s strength as a science fiction writer is clear. Griffin’s incredible achievement is explained in an almost credible way; through the manipulation of light refraction.
But it isn’t only a tale of scientific achievement. For although he is successful, Griffin is unable to enjoy any of the things he has so longed for. He can get riches and he can achieve fame, but being invisible meant it was impossible to enjoy them. The realisation of “…what a helpless absurdity an invisible man was” creates a manic desperation in Griffin that soon gives way to outright madness. Because now what he wants, is to inflict his “Reign of Terror” on the country.
This was an interesting lay out for this story. To have the Invisible Man enter as a shadowy, underhand character and to be introduced to him at the same time as the villagers of Iping appears to be an attempt at a tense vibe. And in part he is successful. We don’t know how this invisible man came to be but we read of how rude and demanding he is and then how his dubious activities increase until he is forced to escape. However, and this is not a small however, this section of the book became bogged down by unnecessary description and even more unnecessary meanderings by the characters. themselves. Interactions with newspaper reading extras does not for interesting reading make.
When our Invisible Man escapes to Dr Kemp’s house and we learn of how he came about is where the story truly came alive for me. Invisibility has been dealt with a lot through other books, movies, tv shows etc. The common theme is that invisibility has a demoralising effect; if your actions aren’t visible to those who can judge you or hold you in check are you able to continue to do what is right or ethical? This isn’t a question posed by Wells. Griffin is soon revealed as having dubious morals before he achieved invisibility. When his miraculous achievement doesn’t bring what he hoped for and he has to start scrambling for survival, Griffin looses what little ethics he has. Stealing, destroying property, frightening children, all is revealed to Dr Kemp and the reader.
This book is satisfying on a number of levels. It is entertaining, gives you a few things to mull over, tense in parts and even has moments of humour; “…the anglo-saxon genius for paliamentary government asserted itself. There was a great deal of talk and no decisive action“. There is definitely enough to satisfy the science-fiction fans and is a great introduction to Mr. Wells. A solid 3 out of 5.