Thursday, 15 December 2011

‘The Shrinking Man’ – Richard Matheson (Gollancz)

Is it just me or does time seem to flow more and more quickly as the end of the year draws ever closer? This is my way of saying that not only do I still need to write my ‘Smugglivus’ post (it’s coming, honest!) but I still haven’t started on ‘The Heroes’. It’s also my way of saying that it was only four weeks ago that I watched ‘The Incredible Shrinking Man’ but it feels like a lot longer...


You can read what I wrote over Here but the gist of it goes a little something like this,

The film was so good, in fact, that I went out and bought the book not long afterwards. Check it out, seriously...


So, not only a film that I watched the hell out of but a film that prompted me to visit ‘Amazon New & Used’ the following day and pick up the book. Thanks to the Richard Matheson connection, ‘The Incredible Shrinking Man’ may have also nudged me in the direction of re-reading ‘I Am Legend’. Was the film really that good? Yes, yes it was.


All in all then, ‘The Incredible Shrinking Man’ made for a great way to spend an hour and a bit. Now I need to get on and read the book...

Yep, I was full of the praise that day wasn’t I? I’ll stand by it as well; ‘The Incredible Shrinking Man’ was an excellent film. I didn’t hang around getting myself a copy of ‘The Shrinking Man’ but, things being the way they are these days, it took me a little longer than normal to get round to reading it. I got there in the end though and picked up the book with high hopes of a novel that was as effective as the film. My hopes were realised but what I didn’t realise, at the time, was that ‘The Shrinking Man’ would prove to be one of the most difficult reviews I’ve ever found myself having to write...

It’s around this point in a review that I give a little blurb on what the book is all about. I’m not going to go into too much detail this time round as I’ve covered this already when I spoke about the film (click on the link at the top if you haven’t already). Suffice it to say that Scott Carey has been exposed to a cloud of radioactive spray and is slowly, but steadily, shrinking. And as Scott Carey shrinks, his problems just keep growing larger and larger.

I thoroughly enjoyed ‘The Shrinking Man’, a book that somehow contrived to lose the ‘incredible’ out of the title but was no less incredible for it. Sitting down to write about it though proved to be a different matter entirely...

You see, the thing is that either the film is a very faithful adaptation of the book or the book dovetails very closely with the film. Actually, looking at the comment next to my film post, it looks like the book came first. The end result though is that I found myself in a position where I’d already said everything about the story itself whilst covering the film adaptation. It’s that faithful to the book.

So, was there anything new I could write about 'The Shrinking Man'? As it happened, yes :o)

Whereas the film sticks to a fairly straightforward, and linear, portrayal of Carey’s shrinking the book jumps backwards and forwards along the timeline, using seemingly random landing points to show us either a new facet of Carey’s character or a problem caused by his shrinking. The ‘film storyline’ works in terms of setting up just how relentless Carey’s shrinking is. I have to say though that I much preferred how the book approached things as the emphasis is more on Carey himself and how he reacts as his previously comfortable becomes something else entirely. The film veers off from the book and that it only gives a brief nod to the changing dynamic between Carey and his wife. The book goes into a lot more detail here and we get to see a much greater degree of emasculation on Carey’s part. He wants to make love to his wife but, as he shrinks, she cannot help but treat him like a child and this fosters a real sense of tension when they are together. Not only does Carey become ‘less of a husband’ but he also becomes ‘less of a father’ as well; in the book he has a daughter and Matheson uses this changing dynamic to strip away a little more of Carey’s manhood. By the end of the book, Carey’s character is stripped right down to the basics and it’s this that ultimately enables him to not only survive but also to move on with his new life. It’s an intriguing journey made all the more detailed by it being written down instead of shown on the screen.

The book also gives us an opening, into the story, that is far more effective than the film’s and has to rank in my top five list of great novel openings that hook the reader right from the off (now there’s a post that I will have to write sometime). Possible spoilers coming up here... We are given a brief description of what happened to Carey (radioactive spray) but no idea of what it will lead to. We are then shown Carey’s passage through a strange and bewildering landscape that seems strangely familiar. The reader’s perspective pans out to show us the cellar and it’s then we realise Carey’s true predicament. Matheson’s approach is masterful, throwing the reader titbits, to keep them interested, and then hitting them right between the eyes with the revelation. Even I was hooked and I knew the story before I’d picked the book up. Matheson takes things one step further by making the confrontation between Carey and the spider a real matter of life and death where the giant environs of the cellar can contain deadly traps for the unwary (at least one passage actually made me jump). The added theme of the spider’s perceived desire for revenge (which you don’t find out about until much later on in the book) adds some real urgency to these passages.

Despite having seen the film only a few weeks beforehand, I couldn’t help but find myself being irresistibly drawn into the story once again and I didn’t put the book down until I’d finished. The idea of people shrinking isn’t a new one but I’d say that it’s Matheson’s treatment of the theme that makes ‘The Shrinking Man’ a book that well deserves its place as an ‘SF Masterwork’. I’ve seen copies still available in bookshops but Amazon is probably the place to go if you’re after a bargain. Whichever way you go, pick a copy up.

Ten out of Ten

4 comments:

Bob (Beauty in Ruins) said...

Matheson is such a great writer. I got into his short story collections after watching some of his Twilight Zone episodes, but I think it was I Am Legend that made me a fan.

As much as it was panned by critics and seems to be despised by most people I know, I actually thought What Dreams May Come was his best movie adaption. Definitely lacks the campy fun of The Shrinking Man, but a gorgeous looking movie and a powerful story.

Xenophon said...

Great review, and another fine example of the latest, is not necessarily,the greatest...

Most writers when they start go to the latest best-sellers to see what is popular and selling before composing their first offerings to publishers.

I took the opposite approach. I went though some 200 books that were considered classics in their prospective genres. The reason for this was I wanted to write something lasting and memorable over profitable. Hopefully all this effort will eventually pan out in creating something that will give back to the books that made and impact on me.

Jessica ( frellathon ) said...

I may have to check this one out now. Thanks.

Kat Hooper said...

I love this book, and the audio version is superb. I need to watch the movie.