INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Often when a novel is made into a film, the original works reputation is subsumed by the subsequent celluloid version. Jack Finneys Body Snatchers, even went so far as to adopt the movies title in reprint editions, becoming Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Perhaps, given the theme of the loss of individuality which runs through the novel, this is an appropriate fate for this book.
The novel is set in the small California town of Mill Valley, just across the bay from San Francisco. Mill Valley seems to be in the grip of a mass delusion that, although people look, act, and respond exactly they way they should be expected to, they are in fact some sort of simulacrum of the originals who have mysteriously vanished. Of course, Morrie Kaufman, one of the local psychiatrists, is able to offer a rational explanation to explain what is happening, even if he does not supply a reason for the mass delusion.
Finney tells the story from the viewpoint of Dr. Miles Bennett, one of the few people in town who does not succumb to the delusion. Although he begins to question his own sanity at times, Bennett, along with a small group of friends, is eventually able to figure out that Mill Valley has been invaded by strange space-travelling pods which are capable of replicating organic life they come into contact with.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers has held up remarkably well over time. One of the few areas in which it demonstrates its age is in Finneys depiction of Mill Valley. Rather than a vibrant city of the 1970s, it remains a quaint town in which everybody knows everybody else. Finneys world shows little technological advancement beyond what was available when the novel was written. However, the book does not resonate because of the technological marvels. In fact, the technological advances which do not occur are part of the strength of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Beginning with the Industrial Revolution, and continuing through the twentieth century, there has been a feeling of the loss of individuality. Many of the most powerful dystopias which have been published in the twentieth century have played on the fear of losing whatever it is that makes each of us an individual, rather than a cog in the wheel of civilization. In Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Finney plays on this fear by stripping all individuality from his characters as they are replaced by emotionless copies.
There are several gaps in the novel. Although Finney briefly covers the fate of Bennetts friends Jack and Theodora Belicec, they disappear for a long time at the height of the action without any hint of their fate. More disturbingly, Miles, Becky, Jack and Theodora seem completely bereft of emotion themselves when it becomes clear that the invasion, even if thwarted, will cost them their loved ones who have already been converted by the pods.
While Invasion of the Body Snatchers is not a great novel, it is better than the reputation acquired by the 1956 and 1978 films. It captures the feel of an earlier time well and speaks to the fear of being lost in a crowd.
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