Sunday, August 26, 2007

book review - Around the World in Eighty Days

This is a great book and comes from a writer with a solid canon of pacey adventure stories. But what you miss in the film and cartoon versions is the sheer scale of the effort of Jules Verne’s vision. He must have sat there with maps, guide books and numerous steamer and train timetables to be able not only to map the journey round the world but also factor in the numerous diversions that Phileas Fogg and company have to take.

Add to that the descriptions of the places they visit, which all sound as if Verne has had personal experience of them and you are left admiring not just the story but the ambition of it.

Plot summary
On paper the story sounds so simple with Phileas Fogg, a rich gentleman that lives by a very strict regime suddenly decides that following the suggestion in he paper that it is now possible to go around the world in 80 days he will do it. He makes the decision in front of four club members at The Reform Club in London and then almost immediately departs for the continent. He takes with him his newly appointed servant Passepartout and on his journey picks up an Indian princess and is dogged by Fix the detective who is convinced that Fogg is a bank robber on the run. By throwing money around and riding his luck Fogg manages to do it before failing at the final hurdle. But thanks to Passepartout going out to find a priest to help Fogg marry his princess they realise they have made the trip in 79 days and have time to make the bet. The conclusion is that it was worth going round the world not for the money, although that helps, but for love.

Is it well written?
The level of research is staggering and it is totally believable not only in terms of the locations but also the timing because Fogg shares it with the reader all the way through. It is one of those books that most people claim to have read because they can bluff the story based on knowing the ending from the various film versions. But you miss the pace, the sense of determination, coldness and detached behaviour of Fogg, who almost defines an Empire generation, which presumably Verne was trying to do. You are never bored reading it, never fully confident that you can predict the outcome and right until the end the central character remains an enigma to everyone around him including the reader,

Should it be read?
There is no excuse for not going out and picking this up for a couple of pounds or second hand. I might seem to be a bit school syllabus type stuff but it is a classic adventure story that has stood the test of time.Verne uses great locations and has the pace of the time as his aid but what makes this a memorable read is that you are unlikely to read a book with such an odd array of main characters than this one.

Around the world in 79 days to find love

Version read -Penguin popular classics