Having really enjoyed my read of “Journey to the Centre of the Earth“, I’ve been keen to read another Verne – so stumbling across this Everyman edition of “Around the World in Eighty Days” in the local Oxfam book shop for 99p was rather timely! Fortunately, it’s in one of the recommended translations (by P. Desages) accompanied by a foreword by Peter Costello and scholarly notes (plus some lovely original illustrations).

80 days
I don’t suppose there are many readers who don’t know the basic plot – wealthy recluse Phileas Fogg, who lives by a mechanical routine, going to his club like clockwork every day, accepts the challenge to travel around the globe in 80 days. A great believer in progress, accompanied by an excitable French manservant, Passepartout, and his faithful Bradshaw, he is unshakable in his believe that modern modes of transport will allow him to win his bet (half of his fortune is staked on it).

However, a complication arises when a bank is robbed just as Fogg prepares to leave. Mistakenly identified as the thief, Fogg is trailed on his journey by a stupid British detective, Fix, who contrives to cause problems all through the trip. On the journey, the travellers encounter all manner of cultures and events – Indian Suttee, North American Sioux attacks, herds of buffalo, opium dens in China – truly, this is a kind of combination adventure-travel book! Fogg rescues an Indian widow, Aouda, who becomes devoted to him and joins the journey. Will technology let Fogg down? Will he win his bet, and will Aouda manage to break through his cold exterior…?

“80 Days” is another great read from Verne, packed with adventure, action, danger, colourful foreign settings and plenty of twists and turns. The characters are all very appealing, from the precise, mechanical Fogg, to the excitable, loyal Passepartout and the dogged Fix. And Verne isn’t afraid to have a refreshingly feisty heroine – Aouda is quite happy to keep up with all the adventures, whether freezing on the back of a land sledge, or sailing through story waters; and she defends herself fiercely against marauding Sioux attackers. It even falls to her to resolve the personal affairs in the book…

jules_verne_young

If I had any criticism, it would be that sometimes the recitation of the various landscapes and countries on the journey becomes slightly mechanical – possibly because Verne presumably had not seen all the places on the journey, and was therefore relying on reference material for his source. However, when he transcends this, his writing is really excellent, and I did get really bound up in the story, wanting Fogg to beat the deadline and all to be resolved happily (even though I knew how the book ends!)

“While the travellers were pursuing such different thoughts, the sledge was flying over the boundless carpet of snow. It passed over creeks, the tributaries direct or indirect of Little Blue River, but no one noticed it. Fields and streams disappeared under one white shroud. The plain was perfectly desolate. Stretching between the Union Pacific railroad and the branch line which connects Kearney with Saint Joseph, it formed a vast uninhabited island. There was not a village, not a station, not even a fort. From time to time they saw fleeting by like a flash some distorted tree, whose white skeleton writhed in the blast. Now and again flocks of wild birds took wing all together, or packs of gaunt, ferocious prairie wolves, lashed by hunger, tore after the sledge, and Passepartout, revolver in hand, held himself in readiness to fire at the nearest. If the sledge had been stopped by some accident, the travellers would have been at once attacked by these fierce flesh eaters, and their position would have been more critical. But the sledge held on bravely, and soon left the howling brutes behind.”

I feel I should say that the copious notes are sometimes just a little too much – yes, they’re informative, but actually *over-informative* in a way that almost distracts from the book. I guess they’re aimed at a more general reader, but I know what a Bradshaw is, and I don’t need to know the history of a person a railroad is named after – so I ended up skipping a lot of the books. There is a spirited defence of Verne at the end of the book, though, and I would agree with much of what’s said – Jules Verne is a writer whose work is not just for children, but is great adventurous reading for adults!

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