The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells
I don’t know if I’ve mentioned before, but I really love H.G. Wells’ writing. I first read The War of the Worlds nearly two years ago, not really knowing what to expect, and I was so surprised by how well-written and gripping it was as a novel. Since then, I have read and studied a number of Wells’ short stories and have always found them to be intriguing, engaging, and extremely readable. A recent trip to a second-hand bookshop resulted in me walking away with a copy of The Invisible Man, and it was definitely a book I was excited to get into. After my struggles with On the Road, The Invisible Man was a fun and enjoyable read that still asked some big questions about humanity and morality.
The Invisible Man is full of Wells’ trademark readable writing, building tension well as the characters face an invisible enemy. The action passages are fast-paced and full of confusion, building on the basic fear of fighting something that could be anywhere, because you can’t see. My favourite aspect of the writing during these passages was the way in which Wells compensated for the loss of sight by strengthening the descriptions of the other senses. The focus on the noises, smells, and touches is gripping, allowing the reader to almost feel as though they are reading a real account of how the characters felt during these moments.
There are probably thousands of words that could be written (and, quite possibly, have been written) about H.G. Wells and his titles. I know that titles are not always the author’s decision, but there is something unendingly fascinating about the titles Wells uses in his novels and short stories: from the dramatic The War of the Worlds to the almost camp-fire-esque A Story of the Days to Come, the titles set the tone for the narratives in a way seen in few other texts. This is particularly apparent in The Invisible Man for one key reason: the title gives away the mystery of the early chapters. When the reader first encounters Griffin, Wells takes great care to drop only hints about him, not out-rightly releasing any more details than will make the reader wonder, along with the rest of the characters, what this stranger’s secret is. However, since the title of the novel is literally The Invisible Man, it is clear right from the start that this mystery is not the central focus.
There is an interesting contradiction in the characters of the novel, in which they are incredibly engaging whilst not being particularly likeable. Marvel is by far the most engaging character in the novel, yet he is a thief and a liar, looking out for his own gain alone. Kemp would traditionally be seen as the hero of the narrative, yet he is revealed in the final stages to be a coward. Griffin is described by other characters as ‘inhuman’, but the flaws Wells explores in his character are inherently recognisable as very human flaws: he loves power; he is destructively ambitious; he is full of greed; his great desire is to be recognised as a genius. These flaws are all pushed to the extreme because Griffin has the ability to act on his desires in a way that no others can through his invisibility. Wells is asking an interesting question here: what would we be capable of if we thought we could get away with it?
Now, I will say that I did not enjoy The Invisible Man quite as much as I enjoyed The War of the Worlds, but then there are not many novels I would say that I enjoyed as much as The War of the Worlds. The Invisible Man is a readable, engaging novel which isn’t scared to ask big questions of the reader. I would definitely recommend this novel, as I would recommend much of Wells’ writing, as a fairly light read which had a large cultural impact; it is worth the short amount of time it takes to engage with it.