The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
Alongside The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine is probably Wells’ best known novel. Although it had been sitting on my kindle for ages, it wasn’t anywhere near the top of my To Be Read list until the ferry on the way back from my holiday when I just wanted something easy to read. Part of the easiness of reading The Time Machine was that I already knew the twist from some discussion in a seminar a couple of years ago: I thought that I knew what this novel was all about. In some regards, that was true, but there was much more depth to the narrative than I had thought before I started.
As always with Wells’ writing, the aspect of the novel which first engages the reader is the narrative voice; whether he is using third or first person narration, Wells’ writing always reads as though someone is talking, telling the story. The narrator of The Time Machine actually has very little to do with the plot of the narrative as a whole, they are simply there to narrate. Yet the voice is so strong and full that the character feels much more important, much more integral to the reader’s overall understanding of the Time Traveller’s story. The Time Traveller’s voice is equally strong, effectively building up the world of the future through his scientific observations about the differences and quirks of the place and people he ends up seeing.
There is an interesting study of names to be done on this novel, in my opinion. I thought it was interesting that in the opening chapters the characters hearing about the Time Traveller’s machine and then subsequently hearing his tale of the future are sketches, identified solely by their careers or one key characteristic. Yet at no point do they feel shallow or unreal, instead the reader is given the implication that the narrator is using a shorthand, an in-joke, referring to characters the reader is assumed to be acquainted with. For this group of characters, not having names gives an impression of intimacy. Yet for Weena, the Morlocks, and the Eloi, the delay on revealing their names by the Time Traveller contributes to the sense of difference and distance between the world of the reader and the world of the Time Traveller.
As with The Invisible Man, this was a great read which didn’t take long to finish. Wells’ writing is always a joy to read, engaging in the same way that someone telling a fireside story is engaging. It does read as a fairly political narrative: I’ve only done limited research into Wells’ political beliefs but The Time Machine definitely appears to be an argument against capitalism. Yet the political aspect of the narrative sits well with the plot and characters, never overpowering them but remaining more in the implication of the situation in which the Eloi find themselves. The War of the Worlds will forever be my favourite Wells novel, but The Time Machine is definitely a novel I would recommend.