Saturday, November 30, 2013

Around the World in Eighty Days: Review

Around the World in Eighty Days is a classic adventure novel by Jules Verne.  I had seen two filmed versions of the story--the 1956 version starring David Niven and a host of stars in cameo roles and the 1989 TV mini series starring Pierce Brosnan and his own host of stars--but had never read the story (despite having a huge book with all of Verne's major works).  I still haven't "read" it.  Faced with a long car trip over the Thanksgiving holiday, I popped in the audio version featuring Christopher Plummer as my narrator and listened to Verne's original story.  I'm pleased to say that each of the films are remarkably faithful to the original--with only a bit of Hollywood glitz sprinkled in.

The story should be a familiar one, but just in case, here is a brief run-down.  Phileas Fogg is an eccentric English gentleman of precise habits.  He dines at the same hour every day, arrives at his club exactly on time, and always plays whist with his fellow club members at the same hour and for the same amount of time.  He is something of a mystery--beyond his obsession with precision and his preference for the game of whist, little is known about him.  That he is wealthy is obvious--how he came to be wealthy is another matter--whether it be through inheritance or sound investments or some other one knows.  

Fogg is so particular about the details of his life that as the story opens he has just dismissed his manservant for the inexcusable error of providing shaving water that was two degrees too cold.  He advertises for a replacement and a Frenchman by the name of Passepartout arrives at his door in response to the ad.  Passepartout has led a rather varied and adventuresome life, but is looking for something quiet and regular.  Having heard about Fogg's passion for regularity and precision, he believes this to be the perfect position.  Fogg hires him on the spot and sets off for his club.

At cards that evening, the subject of travel and how small the world has become with all the modern travel (trains, steamer ships, etc) options available--why, a man can go 'round the world in three months!  Eighty days, is Fogg's reply.  His fellow club members scoff at this, but Fogg recites the various methods of travel available, the length of time required for each leg of the journey, and adds it all up to eighty days.  After much discussion back and forth, a wager is made.  Fogg will offer up twenty thousand pounds (five thousand for each of his colleagues) if he is unable to return to the club in time for their usual whist game in precisely 80 days.  He finishes the card game and heads home to inform Passepartout that they must pack and prepare to journey around the world.  And so Fogg's grand adventure begins--an adventure that will include saving an Indian woman from being burned on a funeral pyre with her dead husband, preventing American Indians from taking over a train, and inciting a seafaring crew to mutiny in order to reach England in time.  

In the meantime, a great bank robbery has taken place and it is said that the thief is--of all things--a gentleman.  When the detective on the case--one Detective Fix--hears of Fogg's intended trip around the world, he becomes convinced that this mysterious gentleman with abundant funds but no visible means of support must be the thief and he takes off after him on the famous journey.  Fix dogs Fogg's steps until Phileas sets foot on British soil once more...where he serves him with a warrant.  By the time it is proved that Fogg is not the thief in question and flies by special train to London too many hours have passed and it looks like Fogg has lost his bet.  But there is one last surprise waiting for Fogg, Passepartout, and the Indian woman Aouda.  Fogg may collect after all.

This is my favorite Verne novel to date.  I've read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Journey to the Center of the Earth and they're both fine adventure stories, but Around the World is the best.  I really enjoy reading about the proper, precise British gentleman making his way around the world and overcoming the various obstacles along the way.  And Passepartout is such a charming sidekick for Fogg.  I'm afraid I don't have much in the way of in-depth analysis on this one--listening to audio novels makes for pleasant driving, but limits my note-taking for review purposes.  A delightful novel coming in at four stars....and now I want to pull out my Brosnan version of the film and rewatch it.

1 comment:

Man of la Book said...

I loved that book when I was a child. I have to re-read it as an adult to gain more appreciation of it.