No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Sunday, September 16, 2012

2012/42: The Invisible Man -- H G Wells

" drugs to a cat is no joke, Kemp! And the process failed [...] These were the claws and the pigment stuff, what is it? — at the back of the eye in a cat. You know?"
"Yes, the tapetum. It didn’t go. [...]gave the beast opium, and put her and the pillow she was sleeping on, on the apparatus. And after all the rest had faded and vanished, there remained two little ghosts of her eyes." [chapter 20]
Read, like several other recent rereads, for the Coursera fantasy and SF course.

I'd forgotten how enjoyable Wells is as a writer, especially when he's focussed on the (Victorian) English and their habits. And I'd forgotten how very unpleasant Griffin, the Invisible Man, turns out to be. He's arrogant and elitist, both socially and intellectually; he steals from his aged father and doesn't mourn the old man's subsequent death; he is short-tempered and prone to violence; he displays a casual disregard for others, human or otherwise (on burning down a house, 'no doubt it was insured': on leaving a man tied up, 'I suppose he untied himself'); and he leaves an invisible cat wandering the streets of London. ("It’s very probably been killed".)

Wells writes excellent comic dialogue (his Sussex 'yokels' are individuated, realistic and an excellent contrast to the intellectual elite as represented by Griffin and Kemp). The Invisible Man is quietly humorous, from Griffin's initial experiments (catching a cold, sleeping in a department store) to Marvel's foiled ambitions: it also presents and explores some important themes, from vivisection to intellectual arrogance to the mechanics of invisibility. (I'm not quite sure at what point food becomes 'assimilated' but Marvel can see that Griffin dined on bread and cheese.)

I preferred Lewis Carroll's grin without a cat to Wells' eyes without a cat. And I was very tempted to write the story of Griffin's experimental subject: an invisible cat having adventures, taunting dogs who can smell but not see her, and finally finding comfort and affection with a blind human.

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