Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Memoirs of an Invisible Man

I’ve just re-read Memoirs of an Invisible Man by H. F. Saint. I read it first in 1987, the year it was published. After my initial reading I had high hopes for the movie version starring Chevy Chase, but was disappointed. The book was not written as a comedy. For movie purposes, it probably worked best as humor.

As written, Saint’s novel would have been hard to film. The story, told in first person by Nick Halloway, is a tale of escape and evasion. And a story of paranoia.

In the novel, Nick, following a beautiful female reporter he’s hot for, is in a building where some secret work is being conducted. There is an industrial accident. After losing consciousness Nick wakes up to find himself lying on what appears to him to be thin air over a huge hole in the ground. A most disconcerting sight. When realization sets in Nick realizes that he, the building and everything in it, has been rendered completely invisible. From that point on Nick, a survivor if ever there was one, decides that whatever it takes he will stay away from the government agents who have quickly taken over the site. The agents have a team feeling their way through their invisible surroundings, wrapping tape around desks and furniture, bringing the building eerily back to life by way of indication. The team is directed by a no nonsense man who, when he finds out there is an invisible man in the area, attempts to talk Nick into accepting his “help.”

Nick wisely gathers up what invisible supplies he can find. Without divulging his identity to the government man, he gets over the fence and back to his Manhattan apartment.

What Saint does in Nick’s narrative is follow in detail each move Nick makes. I won’t try to duplicate or quote Saint. It can start bogging down a reader just going step-by-step through everything the invisible man does. For example, Nick has to figure out how to get food, even how to eat. He notices he can see the food going down his esophagus into his stomach. He needs foods that digest easily, and eventually finds out if he uses a sunlamp while eating the food disappears quickly. Each problem solved adds verisimilitude to the narrative.

Nick gets complacent, but shouldn't. Unknown to him those sinister government agents have been hard at work. They figure out that Nick is the invisible man and they raid his apartment. He barely escapes. The rest of the book details Nick's attempts to stay one step ahead of those agents: where he lives and what he does to survive.

There was one thing I thought was a glaring omission. When cornered by government men I wondered why the pursuers didn't use thermal imaging to “see” Nick’s body heat. That technique was used in another invisible man story, the movie Hollow Man.

My review of Hollow Man is here.

So I did some reading on thermal imaging online. I saw the technology had been in use since the 1970s, but was expensive and because of its secret military applications not widely utilized. By the late 1980s funding was provided so manufacturers could come out with affordable technology to be used in security and fire-fighting, where it has become an invaluable tool. The technology was not commonly used when Saint wrote his book. If he wrote it today he’d undoubtedly have to figure it into the storyline.

Being invisible is a great fantasy. I remember many times in my life wishing I could turn invisible. Then it started happening to me in real life. When a person ages he begins to become invisible to people around him. A store clerk may overlook an older person who steps up to a counter. People may talk about an older person as if he wasn’t right there, able to hear them. So much for the fantasy of being invisible.

As for author H.F.(Harry) Saint, with this book he hit the jackpot. Bidding wars for a first novel are rare, but it happened for this book. He also made a goodly sum for the movie that did the book no justice, but added to his fortunes. Versions of Saint’s career moves after he got money vary, but he is said to have relocated with his family to Europe and retired. And despite the promise shown by the success of this first novel he has not written another book. And who is to say he needs to? Saint kind of vanished to the world of literature, in essence creating his own kind of invisibility.

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