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Book Review: The Invisible Man

February 27, 2019

"Great and strange ideas transcending experience often have less effect upon men and women than smaller, more tangible considerations. "

- H.G. Wells

 

While I don't write science fiction, I enjoy reading it. To me, great science fiction uses the science only as a lens to amplify humanity and its foibles. When I was younger, I preferred the worlds of Jules Verne for their themes of hope, adventure and possibility. What else would be more relevant to a teenager? The works of H.G. Wells tended to be foreboding, almost cynical, somehow. As an adult reader now, I feel more able to relate to Wells' writing.

 

The Invisible Man is Griffin, someone who discovered how to turn his body invisible.  The "science" in it is of course sheer fiction; the narrative explores what happens after. Griffin initially works towards reversing his problem, and then grows to accept it as part of him, and then abuses it. His belief is that since he is invisible to the law, he is above it.

 

There was a terrible movie  (Hollow Man) which played the whole "Superpowers Make You An Asshole" trope to the maximum possible limit, but there was a line from the movie that stuck with me: "It's amazing what you can do when you don't have to look yourself in the mirror anymore."

 

And that I think captures the central conceit. A mirror (or any mirrored image of ourselves) is a literal reflection, and in fiction stands for self-image, or introspection; when the ability to reflect on our Self and our actions, are we still moral people?

 

Of course, these days we don't want invisibility as a power. We want visibility, we want to see ourselves represented, we want to be seen and acknowledged... by other people. That's the whole purpose of social media, isn't it? Because shouting into the void is socially unacceptable and may land you in a psychiatric facility. But shout it into the void of Twitter or Facebook or Instagram, and someone might see it, they might see you, and shout back.

 

Still, that doesn't mean we see ourselves any more clearly than Griffin. So, what really makes us invisible to ourselves? 

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