I know I read The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells some ten or fifteen years ago–and I must have completely forgotten it. Frankly, if I had remembered it more clearly, I don’t think I would have reread it! But since I did (well, listened to it on audio), I’m counting it as a read for R.I.P., as classic horror and certainly full of mists and mystery.
The story begins with a reclusive, bandaged man taking lodgings at an inn, there to work on a mysterious experiment. It’s not much of a spoiler to say that the bandaged man eventually removes his bandages–and is completely invisible. Unfortunately, he’s also a complete psychopath. He wreaks a fair degree of havoc until he eventually runs into an old acquaintance, and sits down for an extended narration about how he became invisible, and his future plans to (more or less) conquer the world.
For the record, I like old books. I really do. I can handle a fair degree of slow writing, a fair amount of focus on random side characters, and even a plot that takes a little while to get going. I just finished Shirley, a Charlotte Bronte novel that had all of those problems, and still enjoyed it immensely. But The Invisible Man? Sad to say, I found it pretty irredeemable.
The concept is a cool one, but in a way that’s the problem. This book is more a concept than it is a novel. The extended narration part when the Invisible Man tells his history is by far the best part of the book, because at least we have one focused character (if a deeply unlikable one) and a coherent sequence of events towards some purpose. That section takes up maybe a quarter of the book (hard to estimate on audiobook), and starts somewhere past the midpoint. The rest of the book is pretty much the Invisible Man wreaking havoc among fairly insignificant characters, or equally insignificant characters trying to deduce what’s going on.
Our only major character is the Invisible Man himself, and he really is a psychopath. He has an utter disregard and lack of empathy for anyone but himself, and he has no particular reason for being that way. I can enjoy a dark hero who is complicated and has a history to explain why he’s declaring war against the world (Sweeney Todd or the Leroux Phantom come to mind). But the Invisible Man…is really just a psychopath, not complex and not at all sympathetic.
The one element I found kind of amusing? For 1897, it’s a little bit racy–I mean, the main character spends large portions of the book running around naked! Just, you know, invisibly. 🙂
I think this may be one of those classic works where the author had a great idea, but not much effective execution of it (at least, not for modern tastes), and it’s more the derivations and retellings that appeal now. (With apologies to Leroux, Phantom of the Opera is like that too–though it’s a much better book than Invisible Man.) Running with that theory, I plan to get my hands on a copy of The Invisible Man classic movie, starring Claude Rains (not that you can recognize him…) to see if that goes a bit better!
Buy it here: The Invisible Man