Saturday, September 10, 2016

Memoirs of an Invisible Man

Have you ever wondered what happens to the food an invisible man eats? That's one of many logistical questions explored by H.F. Saint in his science fiction novel, Memoirs of an Invisible Man. The book asks what it really means to be invisible, and the result is a story that is mostly fun but sometimes tedious.

Memoirs of an Invisible Man is the first-person narrative of Nick Holloway, who describes what happens to his life after an industrial accident renders him invisible. Before long, he's on the run from government agents led by the ruthless David Jenkins, all the while trying to adapt to his new condition.

The book balances between the idea that being invisible would really be a lonely, difficult way to live with the elements of a chase thriller. Saint jumps back and forth between scenes of Holloway trying to adjust to his invisibility - getting food without leaving his house, covering his absence at work, trying to avoid bumping into people on the street - and scenes of Jenkins and his crew showing up and trying to catch him.

What Holloway discovers is that in modern society, it is possible to go through life without getting close to anyone, without engaging or getting to know other people, or having any real personal connections. Nick is able to conduct stock market trades over the phone, accumulate some money, and purchase property all without ever having to meet a banker or broker face-to-face. He sneaks into parties, listens to conversations, and then calls up someone, acting like an old friend or an acquaintance. He is a phantom, floating through the world without getting close to anyone and without anyone literally seeing him, and it is lonely and disheartening.

This ability, to move in and out of buildings, collect information without being seen, is what intrigues Jenkins, who sees Nick as the perfect spy. At the same time Nick isn't seen, his life story and all the details of who he knows, where he's been, where he socializes, etc. are there for the gathering by the government, which Jenkins uses to try to trap Nick. Being invisible doesn't mean you aren't being watched.

The plot is fairly repetitive. Nick adapts to a new aspect of his life and then Jenkins and company turn up to give chase, and Saint sometimes gets bogged down in details that are kind of tedious. The final third of the book is given over to a romance between Nick and Alice, an artist who thinks he's some kind of ghost, and it's kind of creepy, unintentionally so I think. Nick is meant to come off as lonely and desperate, but his behavior in this part borders on that of a pervy rapist.

Plus, Nick overall is a bit of a wet blanket; he just wants to go away and be left alone, and he doesn't seem to ever try to have fun with his situation, at least on occasion. He can get a bit tiresome. At least Jenkins has imagination enough to want to put the invisibility to good use (maybe I'm biased because I saw the movie first and Nick was played by Chevy Chase and Jenkins by Sam Neil).

Overall, the book is an unconventional look at one of science fiction's oldest devices, at times funny, thrilling, and poignant.

No comments:

Post a Comment