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On the fourth day of February a "stranger [falls] out of infinity into Iping Village" in the Sussex countryside and rents a room at the local inn. His body swathed in clothes, his face wrapped in white bandages, his eyes hidden behind a pair of big blue spectacles, he cuts a bizarre figure. The local "yokels" speculate that he must have suffered some kind of accident. Or that he must be a disguised criminal on the run from the police. Or an ashamed mixed-race piebald hiding his appearance. Or an anarchist working on bombs. Or a lunatic. He claims that he's an "experimental investigator." Surely he's unpleasant and irritable, possessing "A bark of a laugh that he seemed to bite and kill in his mouth," upsetting dogs and boys, and rebuffing all attempts to get to know him with curses so that he may be left undisturbed to do his work. No one even knows his name. About when wags begin walking round the village imitating the stranger by pulling down the brims of their hats and pulling up the collars of their coats and kids begin singing a Bogey Man song whenever they see the stranger, events take a surreal turn when the vicar's house is burgled and the locals put two and two together and send the constable to arrest the stranger, who then disrobes and disappears, for, it turns out, he is the Invisible Man.
Most of H. G. Wells' The Invisible Man (1897) concerns the efforts of "the writer" to collate and interpret the testimony of various witnesses to the Invisible Man's "reign of terror" in the British countryside after the fact. Told from the points of view of countryside denizens like the proprietress of the inn and her husband, the village clock-jobber, general practitioner, reverend, and constable, and even a bachelor tramp, much of the story is a mysterious comedy of class or manner or place. When we finally learn the stranger's name and get his story from his own mouth over half way through, the tale shifts into a study of the alienated mad scientist. Even this is at a remove, however, for his monologue is narrated from the point of view of his university acquaintance Dr. Kemp, who interrupts his story now and then with questions and comments. Wells thus distances us from his scientist until, perhaps, the end of the climax of the short novel.
The Invisible Man explores themes that appear elsewhere in Wells' work: unknown wonders and terrors in the world/universe caused or explained by science may appear at any moment; people fear extraordinary things; men of science who cut themselves off from community become "inhuman"; "contemporary society" is marred by "desecrated fields" and "dank, squalid respectability and . . . sordid commercialism." It is interesting to read the novel with Wells' great short story "In the Country of the Blind," in which a sighted man enters a village of blind people and thinks to rule them, while here an invisible man thinks at first that his condition will give him wonderful advantages over the common run of sighted humanity, permitting him to perpetrate any crime and to do anything he wants.
Perhaps Wells stacks the deck against his scientist. If he had become invisible in the summer instead of the winter, if he'd been a man of calmer temper, if he'd used a different palliative than strychnine, if he'd had more money, if he'd found a less "miserable tool" than the wonderfully named Thomas Marvel, if he'd met Dr. Kemp earlier, and so on, things might have turned out differently. But because the brilliant man is self-centered, irritable, anti-social, and amoral and has become "ruled by a fixed idea" (that his experiments are the only reality), has "lost his human sympathy," has come to believe that "the common conventions of humanity" like not robbing people in their own homes "are all very well for common people," and has imagined schemes for using the "commoners" around him instead of for improving their lives, for all those reasons Wells relishes making things difficult for his scientist.
As in most of his work, Wells' writing here is concise, clear, amusing, terrifying, and literary. He provides reality-establishing scientific explanations involving optics, physics, dynamos, and chemicals for invisibility. He writes comical and vivid descriptions: "His mottled face was apprehensive, and he moved with a sort of reluctant alacrity." He applies irony liberally: "'An invisible man is a man of power.' He stopped for a moment to sneeze violently." And he is capable of harrowing prose: "Down went the heap of struggling men again and rolled over. There was, I am afraid, some savage kicking. Then suddenly a wild scream of 'Mercy! Mercy!' that died down swiftly to a sound like choking."
James Adams reads the audiobook perfectly.
People interested in the history of science fiction (this is one of the first sf stories about invisibility), in studies of criminal intellectual pride, or in compact philosophical novels, should read this book.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
What does James Adams bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?
James Adams did a wonderful job with this. I had listened to of few different narrators and I don't know if he was the best, but he did a great job. No complaints! I think he captured the temperament of the invisible man with ease.
Any additional comments?
I was going to title this review, "Stands the test of time," but then I figured the better title was "Way ahead of its time." I've read, or tried to read, some old Sci-fi from the 40's and 50's, and... I'm sorry... but it is just corny. Stuff that is considered classics from the 50's (give or take a decade) would be considered just plain BAD if written today, in my opinion. But if this book were written and released today, I think it would still be good - very good. This is why I think it was just way ahead of it's time, like most of H.G.'s stuff. <br/><br/>It was fun reading a book written in the era of 1897. It's not historical fiction set in the late 19th century, it was actually written back then and was the way things were. This added to the "coolness" of the book. But yet, like I said, it isn't the corny/bad stuff that you might expect from "old/classic scifi." <br/><br/>I had read the first 1/3 of the book a year ago (having always wanted to read it) but got side tracked. I picked up the audio book here for 50 cents and was well worth it. A great story and a great listen! <br/>
28 of 32 people found this review helpful
I really wish I'd listened to the sample before buying.
The narration is truly awful - read like a shipping report, Mayes' dreary monotone has the sole recommendation of being preferable to his occasional weak stabs at 'enthusiasm'. His attempts to put on accents are as poorly executed & inappropriate as Dick Van Dyke's unrecognisable cockney in Mary Poppins. Yet somehow this is topped by his incredibly annoying habit of adding lengthy & inappropriately-timed pauses mid-sentence, and rounded off with background noises created by his fidgeting.
The most positive comment I can make is that it illustrates how audiobooks are more professionally produced nowadays than they were when this version was unlovingly churned out. Sadly, this is the only audio version of The Invisible Man on Audible. So I'll have to hunt out the paperback, since the thought of sitting through another 5 1/2 hours of this makes me shudder.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful