December 5th, 2019

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The Invisible Man, by H.G. Wells

Second paragraph of third chapter:
And he came down the steps towards the tail of the cart as if to lay hands on the smaller crate.
Back when I reread The Time Machine a few months ago, I spotted a complete set of Wells' novels on Kindle for some ridiculously cheap price,and nabbed it, with the result that I now have a lot of Wells novels on my (virtual) unread shelf. I was surprised to realise that I had not previously read this one. It's the classic treatment of invisibility - see also Tolkien, a spinoff film, the Double Deckers and the erotic comics artist Milo Manara; and there's also a memorably crucial chapter in Diana Wynne Jones' classic The Ogre Downstairs:
“Listen, Caspar,” said the Ogre, “this is very kind of you, but I don’t like what you’ve told me about the effects of invisibility at all. It sounds as if Johnny has become all thoughts, and nothing else. And they were angry thoughts to begin with. I think he might harm himself even more than he can harm me. And another thing – I’m pretty sure he’s been invisible now for nearly twenty-four hours, and if we leave him much longer he may be warped for life. Now do you see?”
This is Wells' third sf novel, after The Time Machine and The Island of Dr Moreau, but just before The War of the Worlds. It takes a core proposition, invisbility, and transsforms it from a technical question to a moral and ethical conundrum. The first few chapters are a bit silly, relying on the consternation of the rural folk who don't know what they are dealing with (because they haven't seen the title of the book they are in), but it picks up quickly, and once we get into Griffin explaining his own means and motivation to his old friend Kemp, we are in very interesting territory; having removed all visibile links to society, only taking what he wants, Griffin feels both divided from and superior to humanity. There is a sense, as with Johnny in The Ogre Downstairs, that Griffin is becoming only the sum of his own negative thoughts (the Ogre has presumably read Wells); the difference is that Griffin was clearly an asshole in the first place, behaving entirely out of selfish motives and succumbing, in the end fatally, to delusions of grandeur. Once we get over laughing at the villagers, there's a great sense of pace and tension, and a very satisfactory climax (though in the end we are still meant to laugh at Marvel, Griffin's accomplice). So I'm happy to continue working through the Wells I haven't previously read. You can get this one here.

This was my top unread book acquired this year, and my top unread sf book. Next on both of those piles is Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman, which I'm really looking forward to.