Friday, April 8, 2022

Book Review: Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Entertaining story
Cons: Thin characters, dated elements
The Bottom Line:
Racing around globe
With paper thin characters
Wanted to like more

The Original Race Around the World

I’ve often thought about reading Jules Verne’s classic Around the World in 80 Days.  Even though I was disappointed with the recent PBS/BBC production loosely inspired by the book, I decided it was time to finally see what happened in the original book.

This book introduces us to Phileas Fogg, a wealthy Londoner in the 1870’s.  He’s a man of exacting standards and routine.  In fact, he has to hire a new man servant because his last one didn’t have his shaving water heated to the exact temperature that Fogg required.  His new servant, the Frenchman Passepartout, is thrilled about Fogg’s dependability since he is looking for a quiet life after leading a life of excitement for the last few years.

Of course, on the exact day that Passepartout enters Fogg’s employ, Fogg makes a bet with the members of his gentlemen’s club that Fogg can make it around the world in exactly 80 days.  So the two set off, planning to take trains and ships to accomplish this feat.

However, a bank has just been robbed a few days before they leave, and a detective in Suez thinks that Fogg matches the description of the bank robber.  Will Detective Fix arrest Fogg for a crime he didn’t commit?  Or will Fogg make it around the world?

I’ve got to say, I was a little surprised at how quickly they covered some parts of the journey, and then how long they spent in other locations.  We pretty much jump from England to Suez, for example.  And I feel like we spend more time in America than anywhere else on the trip.

I found myself struggling to enjoy this book as much as I expected to, and that’s mainly because of the characters.  They are paper thin.  Passepartout is the best of the lot.  Fogg, for example, never shows emotion.  It really makes Passepartout the main character.  Fix and his efforts to slow them down so he can arrest Fogg makes for an interesting complication, and I did get into the story the further along I went, but still, I wish there were more character development.

Another reason I struggled was the constant head hopping.  It’s definitely not a writing style I’m used to these days, and this book is a good example of why it is mostly avoided now.  It’s not done well here.

The book is definitely dated in its portrayal of native cultures.  There are two events that especially stood out to me, one in America and one in India.  Of course, I know that both of the things portrayed did actually happen in real life; and one of them was a major issue that was being dealt with at the time.  I do wonder how prevalent that other was.  As such, it leaves me with mixed thoughts on the inclusion of these incidents in the book from a historical and cultural perspective since they were reflecting the world at the time.  From a dramatic perspective, they gave us some of the most exciting events of the story.

Then there’s Aouda, the only woman in the entire book.  Even by the standards of the thin characters already in the book, she is absolutely the worst character here.  She doesn’t do much throughout the book until the climax, where her presence plays a vital part.  Even so, she is a waste of a character and got on my nerves because of it.  To be clear, she got on my nerves because of how thin and undeveloped she was.  And that is why I found her the worst character.

I really appreciated how the ending was set up.  Yes, I already knew what was going to happen (I’d heard about the ending of the book years ago, so even before I watched the PBS version), so I appreciated the little clues to that which were worked into the book earlier.

Having now read the book, I can certainly appreciate why the PBS version made some of the changes they did to this story.  The dated elements and thin characters wouldn’t fly with today’s audience.  However, I don’t think their fixes were necessarily any better.  In fact, in many cases, they were worse and will date the new production as badly in another few years.

While I’ve been saying I read the book, technically, I listened to the audio version.  The version I got from the library was unabridged, and it was the Recorded Books version narrated by Patrick Tull.  I thought he did fine with the story and keeping the characters straight for us.

I enjoyed the story enough that I’m glad I’ve finally read Around the World in 80 Days.  However, the weak characters and dated elements make it a book to think carefully about before you pick it up.

1 comment:

  1. This is on my reading list but my husband reread it recently and his opinions tallied exactly with yours so it's been pushed down a bit on my list.


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