Mar 05, 09
Read in March, 2009
NOTE: I "read" the audiobook version of this, narrated by the fabulous Jim Dale. I think this definitely added interest to the story, which did begin a bit dull, but ended splendidly! Dale is REMARKABLE at the characterization and voices and I think this tale is especially well suited to being read aloud by someone who can do all the accents! ;-> This version also sometimes plays music in the background, suited to the setting/culture and that was a nice touch and helped set the right tone.
EXTENDED REVIEW: I really didn't know what to expect with this tale, yet I felt "surprised" somehow so I guess I had some expectations. I suppose the biggest surprise for me was the character of Phineas Fogg--somehow, I expected that a man who would endeavor to go around the world in eighty days must somehow be quite swashbuckling, adventurous, young-and-brazen, idyllic or simply filled with an unbelievable portion of wanderlust. Mr. Fogg is none of these things. He is "calm" and "impassive" and "indefatigable"--he accepts the bet to go around the world in eighty days as a matter of honor, and for the sake of the challenge. Until that point, his life was like clock-work, an eccentric and aristocratic unattached gentleman who went to his Young Reform Club regularly and whose chief joy in life seemed to be the playing of whist. I found it rather difficult to really "like" Mr. Fogg, and yet, as the story progressed, I found myself filled with a deeper and deeper sense of admiration for him--a glow of, if not quite affection, than certainly deep esteem. His calm in any sort of catastrophe makes him the sort of friend one would wish for in any circumstance, and his sense of honor is truly endearing. And, yet, could Mr. Fogg be a bank-robber...!?
Verene pairs Mr. Fogg with a much more excitable fellow (a Frenchman, no less!), his servant Passepartout. Here we get lots of humor, and also lots of humanity! But whatever help he may be, Passepartout also creates several snags for Mr. Fogg on the journey; can he redeem himself?
Doggedly trailing Mr. Fogg is the stalwart Inspector Fix who needs to keep him in sight long enough for an arrest warrant to make its way from London. (You see, Fogg matches the description of a bank robber and his sudden departure from London seems suspicious...) While it would be all too easy to pin Mr. Fix as the "bad guy" out to thwart our (supposed) hero, Verne does a marvelous job of simply making him a dutiful gentleman out to uphold the law and ensure that justice is served. However, one also rather hopes that he will hold off on capture until Fogg makes it around the world!!!
The book is rarely "exciting" but it is definitely suspenseful! It's fascinating to see Verene's portrayal of the world in 1872. It is not quite so bombastically ethnocentric as one might expect. Also, it was absolutely amazing to realize how much has changed in little over 130 years!!! Especially shocking was how "timeless" London seemed--really, it seemed that even today gentlemen might go to their favorite hang-outs and play games... Yet the differences in other parts of the world (including the US) are remarkable and, at times, appalling (that is, how much has been lost in terms of native culture, for example).
READ ON ONLY IF YOU WANT SOME
**********SPOILERS***************** ON PLACES THEY VISIT
I'm eager to discuss these points with those who have read this:
SPOILERS ON PLACES THEY VISIT:
I was amazed that, with all their colonization and imperialism, the British sought to preserve the dignity of the Hindu temples. Hooray! And, yet, it seemed that many aspects of the religion were still widely misunderstood with little interest in diving deeper. The vilification of the Kali worshipers was troubling, although so were their actions! I thought that Verne showed a deep sensitivity in the passage where he discusses the train pushing through the villages of some of the Indians, speculating on their thoughts as they witnessed all this technology and Western-ism infiltrating their lives. And yet, I think a true sense of British superiority reigns throughout.
I felt an especial delight in the passages on San Francisco and the train trip from there. Being a resident of the Gold Country outside of Sacramento, it was really fun to hear such small towns as Auburn and Colfax mentioned in the same novel that has so many exotic locations--really, for one to go around the world, taking a train through Auburn is rather remarkable! I also smiled my way through the descriptions of Sacramento (which most residents would hardly call remarkable in beauty these days!) "The wide streets, handsome wharfs, splendid hotels, squares and churches." Ah, sounded lovely back then!
The entire segment on Utah and Mormonism was absolutely fascinating! My husband's family is Mormon so I have a bit of insight and much of what Verne related seemed accurate, although I couldn't help but think that he viewed Mormonism as a sort of curiosity, something of interest to be studied and marveled over. And yet, he gave them fair voice, especially in terms of how they had been so persecuted and were seeking a place to make their own.
I also thought it was quite delightful to hear about a Brit's views on the Americans. Such phrases as "the generally carefree attitude of the Americans" were a treat! It seemed that Americans were much more reckless and free than Brits, though whether this was a good thing is never really stated! ;->
It was hard to believe that thousands of bison still wandered the American plains--the train had to stop for three hours to let a herd of about 10,000 migrating bison cross the tracks!!! Also, the Native Americans were still a huge force (or "threat") and before the train left San Francisco, passengers were advised to purchase guns and ammo in case the train were attached on the prairie!!! Ah, how much we have lost...
PLOT SPOILERS IN TERMS OF CHARACTERS/OUTCOMES--READ ONLY IF YOU'VE ALREADY READ THE BOOK.....
Was Passepartout a help or hindrance? I think that, with the exeption of his cluelessness in the Hindu temple, he was overwhelmingly a help especially for being thrown into the situation so suddenly. His bravery in rescuing Mrs. Aouda and stopping the Souix attack are marvelous! Yet, was he wrong to withhold Fix's purpose from Fogg? He called it his biggest mistake and felt terribly responsible for the outcome. It did seem rather silly in retrospect that he did not tell Fogg, especially when Fogg was so helpful to Fix! But, that is just my view and I think he redeemed himself!
Finally, I was quite shocked that not only do Mrs. Aouda (a Parsi!) and Fogg (a London gentleman) marry, but that SHE asks HIM!!!! I found this remarkably progressive!!! Granted, she looked almost European and had received an English education, but still a bi-cultural/bi-racial marriage, especially to a proud Englishman, seemed so surprising to me, given the era. Moreover, that a WOMAN should propose to a MAN and be accepted!?!?! Remarkably refreshing, if you ask me! :-)