On “The Sleeper Awakes” – H.G. Wells

I don’t exactly remember how I discovered this book. But at least a couple of months ago, I came across the name, looked up the synopsis and downloaded it with the intention of reading it on the first chance. Less than a month ago, on a particular midnight, I was unable to sleep and having little to no desire to take up something educational, I decided to go through my collection of fiction. The H.G. Wells folder caught my eye and I opened it to reveal this book along with a couple of others. Remembering suddenly what it was about, I decided to start reading it.

Fun Fact: The first chapter was called “INSOMNIA.” Also adding that although I mean to not talk in detail about any events in the book, depending on your perspective, there may or may not be spoilers ahead so proceed with caution.

It started off as really interesting, and definitely had my undivided attention. The events near the beginning of the book were fairly fast-paced, and it wasn’t until the sleeper actually awoke that I felt any need to skim over as much as even a single word. But that was when the things got real slow both for us and the sleeper. Just like the sleeper, I was eager to know as much as possible about that strange new world that greeted him, but Wells spent literally entire chapters on stuff as uneventful as a walk from one part of the city to another or a tailor making a dress on-the-fly or explaining the intricacies and details of a particular building that the sleeper happened to be present in. It wasn’t until I was already past half the book that the sleeper even had the faintest idea of what was going on with the world. True, he was aware of his own significance but that was it. He had no clue of the infrastructure and the social order and although in the story, and therefore neither did I.

Even around 70% of the book, the sleeper was still strolling through the city trying to get a good picture of the state it was in and the lives the different classes of the people led and roughly around the same time did the actual action begin. Then everything suddenly happened way too fast and then just when things began to get interesting, I realized that there were only 5 pages left and I realized that the book was gonna end abruptly and in the middle of the action.

Now here’s the brilliance of it. You might wanna stop reading now if you haven’t read the book yet. From the moment the sleeper awakes, he, and therefore us, the readers, are extremely eager to know what the state of the world that greeted him is. But the people surrounding him aren’t exactly of an opinion where this much needed enlightenment is an immediate concern. I marvel at how he even had the patient to stand their bullshit while the kept him in the dark claiming that imparting too much information in too little time would overwhelm him and that the city was in a state of unrest and therefore only so much attention could be given to him. In the slow and uneventful chapters full of nothing but descriptions of walls and rooms we actually felt the sleeper’s frustration at being told nothing and being left to do naught but gaze around observing every tiny detail on his own.

When he moved through the city, as he did on several occasions throughout the book, we get totally unneeded descriptions lasting entire pages of the things he saw that don’t even paint all that clear a picture in our heads, just like he, despite seeing all of it, had little to no clue about any of it. And when, in the end, everything speeds up considerably, we actually experience the urgency, the confusion, the hasty decision making that the sleeper experienced. We felt his anger and helplessness when the fight broke out and later on we felt his energy and faltering spirit when he was pacing the room waiting for news. And then, in the final moments of the book, when it just ended without warning, we felt what he felt. Signs of victory and then suddenly the realization of an impending an imminent misfortune and then nothing. That’s how life is after all. Nothing happens with a warning. One moment you are speeding on the highway and the next you crash and just as you start feeling the impact, you realize what has happened and what might and probably will happen and then it all happens so quickly that you either wake up in a hospital room and ask what happened or just black out.

The amazing thing about this book is that for a book written in third person that goes into more details about the visuals than about the feelings of the titular character, it does an amazing job at making us feel what the character felt even if not in exactly the same way.

 

Anas Ismail Khan

 

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