THE TIME MACHINE / AUTHOR: H. G. WELLS / NARRATOR: HUGH BONNEVILLE / PUBLISHER: AUDIBLE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
One of a set of five of H.G. Wells’ most acclaimed tales being released in new narrated audiobook versions by Audible, The Time Machine is a story that encapsulates all of the signature elements of Wells’ literature of the fantastic. The combination of Wells’ fascination with the apparently limitless potential of new, disruptive technologies and his evident concern with how humankind might be affected by those new capabilities is writ large in the preoccupations of this tale of time travel and human frailty and folly.
First published in 1895, Wells’ novella immediately stood out not only because of its wild, imaginative speculation about the future, but also because of its use of a story-within-a-story structure which relies on an observer to narrate the first-hand experiences of the central protagonist. In common with much of Wells’ writing, there’s a very effective contrast in evidence here between the extraordinary premise and the author’s restrained narrative style.
The story begins with the eponymous (and anonymous) inventor revealing to his assembled dinner guests that he has developed a prototype device able to travel backwards and forwards through time. His guests are dismissive, but their scepticism is challenged when their host returns from an unexplained absence to relate the incredible story of his foray into the distant future of Earth.
This unabridged rendition is voiced by Hugh Bonneville, who brings the ideal level of gravitas and seriousness to his narration. There’s no question that Wells is a brilliant storyteller, and in his element when bringing to life imaginary worlds. Yet it’s not exactly heresy to acknowledge that some aspects of his writing style (especially those addressing weighty philosophical, existential or moral questions) can be heavier going. There’s a lightness to Bonneville’s sonorous vocalisation which enlivens those sections of Wells’ prose that are denser in texture and, just as importantly, helps to soften the more pompous and self-regarding aspects of the traveller’s nature.
Wells’ creation of the guileless, indolent Eloi and the rapacious subterranean Morlocks has continued to excite readers for more than one hundred years. Many analysts have offered different interpretations of Wells’ intention in relation to the metaphor and symbolism of the story’s central conceit. There’s been much debate as to whether the story’s (fairly bleak) conclusion about the ultimate fate awaiting humanity should be seen as an exercise in serious social commentary, as a cracking fireside yarn - or as both.
Well-paced and delivered with all of the requisite vocal commitment, this is a faithful and very sympathetic version of Wells’ classic tale, richly brought to life by Bonneville’s keenly judged and sympathetic narration.