Book Review: The Invisible Man

Image from Amazon.com

This is another book that I read because I was considering it for a ninth grade, homeschool co-op, literature class I am teaching this year. It is the third book I have now approved and I have slated this one for the first novel of the year. While it might not be my favorite book of all time, I think it will fit well with this group of homeschool boys and I am hoping they might actually enjoy it. I mean, it’s early sci-fi, it’s a mystery of sorts, it has action scenes and weapons, it even has horror (again, very early). There is not even a whiff of romance. (One of my goals for the lit choices this year is books that will be enjoyed and therefore encourage more reading and a life of reading). And there are plenty of literary teachable moments. I believe it’ll do.

Of note: there are two famous books titled (The) Invisible Man. One (Invisible Man) is by Ralph Ellison, was published in America in the 1950s, and though it is a novel (which won the National Book Award) it deals with issues of being Black in America, Black Nationalism, Marxism, and identity, among other things. It is also a book that is used as high school reading here or there. The book I am reviewing is H. G. Wells’ The Invisible Man, a science fiction novel published at the turn of the nineteenth century. The book was popular in its time and was one of his successful novels that gained him the moniker “the father of science fiction.” His other famous, speculative titles are The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds, and The Island of Doctor Moreau.

The Invisible Man is about a man whose identity we do not know at the beginning. He shows up at an English countryside inn in the village of Iping, covered in bandages and a strange assortment of clothing. He’s rude, short-tempered, and evasive and comes bearing both literal and metaphorical baggage. The villagers want to get to the bottom of his story, but their prying ends up unleashing a series of firework events and also the combustive personality of the bandaged stranger. Told from the perspective of a third-person storyteller (who appears to be an investigator of some sort), The Invisible Man begins as a Victorian novel, morphs into science fiction, and ends as a horror novel (though not slasher, if you know what I mean). It has humor, satire, and psychology, tragedy and mystery. (Though the tragedy here is not complete because the Invisible Man’s character is not as deeply plumbed or fleshed out as it could be, like the monster, say, in Frankenstein.) It’s an interesting story, a quick read, with things to say. And it is a classic.

Griffin—the invisible man—has become a staple of the horror genre. I was reading the book and my daughter asked, “Is that the Invisible Man from Hotel Transylvania?” Well, yes, I suppose it is, and from many other places as well, though like all the classic horror characters (Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula, The Mummy, Doctor Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde…) the character has been embellished beyond recognition of the original. The only movie of The Invisible Man I could find recommended is a modern take on a stalker boyfriend that has nothing to do with the original. (Also, one that is not recommended anywhere called Hollow Man. Okay, and there is the old one from 1933, but I don’t feel like watching another old flick at the time.) Abbott and Costello meet him. Chevy Chase plays him in a comedy. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen includes him. There’s an invisible woman. An invisible mouse.

In the end, I don’t have too much to say about the book. It’s a classic. It’s pretty interesting. It’s very Victorian in style with lots of allusions to British life at the time. Despite it’s lack of depth (though it invites speculation about the characters), it should keep you turning the pages and thinking about the advent of science fiction and horror writing. I guess I was hoping for something more winsome, more playful, but this book comes from a time when humanity was just beginning to explore the what-ifs of modern science and the consideration here (even with some comical characters), as elsewhere, is dead serious.

QUOTES:

“‘A door onbust is always open to bustin’, but ye can’t onbust a door once you’ve busted ‘en'” (p33).

“It is so much easier not to believe in an invisible man; and those who had actually seen him dissolve into air…” (p53).

“All men, however highly educated, retain some superstitious inklings” (p87).

“I had never realised it before, but the nose is to the mind of a dog what the eye is to the mind of a seeing man” (p118).

“And every dog that came in sight, with its pointing nose and curious snigging, was a terror to me” (p121).

“Burning! I had burnt my boats–if ever a man did! The place was blazing” (p121).

“But I knew too clearly the terror and brutal cruelty my advances would evoke” (p122).

“But even to me, an invisible man, the rows of London houses stood latched, barred, and bolted impregnably” (p122).

“I had no shelter, no covering,–to get clothing, was to forego all my advantage, to make myself a strange and terrible thing. I was fasting; for to eat, to fill myself with unassimilated matter, would be to become grotesquely visible again” (p129).

“I was grotesque to the theatrical pitch, a stage miser, but I was certainly not a physical impossibility” (p136).

“…It’s not particularly pleasant recalling that I was an ass” (p137).

“Alone–it is wonderful how little a man can do alone! To rob a little, to hurt a little, and there is the end” (p141).

“I have listened to such a story this morning of brutal self-seeking!” (p145).

“The man’s become inhuman, I tell you…” (p147).

“…and suddenly he knew that life was very sweet” (p158).

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