Book Review: Around the World in Eighty Days

Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne is a quirky French adventure novel – although I read an English translation – from the 19th century. It’s about an eccentric old man, Phileas Fogg, who attempts to travel across the world in 80 days in order to win a £20,000 bet.

Mostly, I enjoyed Around the World in Eighty Days. It feels like quite a long time since I’ve reviewed a classic novel on my blog.

Phileas Fogg is very eccentric; he reminded me of Sherlock Holmes, though with less drugtaking. However, I thought Fogg was a less likeable character than Sherlock Holmes because, whilst he behaved like the perfect Victorian gentleman, he came across as quite aloof, self-absorbed and less personable.

The narrative voice was quirky and sarcastic, which I particularly enjoyed. The plot is quite fun too, mostly because Fogg’s valet Passepartout finds himself in all kinds of difficult and amusing situations.

However, for a travel narrative, it’s ironic that Fogg isn’t the slightest bit interested in his surroundings. I was expecting some  exquisite descriptions of beautiful and exotic landscapes, but that was hardly the focus of the novel.

Instead, the focus was on money – how much Fogg bets, spends, and loses as he travels the globe. Personally, I found it quite uncomfortable that Fogg just threw money at every situation he found himself in.

Around the World in Eighty Days is also obviously a novel of its period.

For example, it focuses on the grandeur and excitement of a white British man travelling to parts of the world colonised by Britain, and using money to get what he wants. Furthermore, there are quite a few problematic racial stereotypes, and the new cultures that Fogg and his companions experience are often described as odd and unusual, in comparison to British culture.

Also, Mrs Aouda is weakly characterised – she may as well not be there. I can only recall her being rescued, crying or falling in love because I suppose that’s what Victorian women do?

I still enjoyed Around the World in Eighty Days a great deal and I think it’s a fun novel. However, there are also some interesting points of contention to be made about it.

– Judith

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Book Review: Secret Water

Secret Water is the eighth novel in the Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome. There are 12 books in the series in total.

Secret Water focuses on just the Walker children, as they are “marooned” in Hamford Water, which is an area of tidal salt marshes and low-lying islands. It is the first book where Bridget – formally known as Fat Vicky, the baby in Swallows and Amazons, is old enough to join in on the adventures.

I think Bridget is my new favourite character; everything she said put a smile on my face, and the interactions between her and Roger are so sweet and funny.

In my review of Pigeon Post, the sixth book in the series, I said:

Pigeon Post is Ransome’s funniest book yet.’

However, I no longer think this is the case.

Ransome’s light-hearted narration, paired with the humour of Bridget and Roger is just fantastic. As he is no longer the youngest, Roger tries to model more grownup behaviour for Bridget (and fails). Bridget is teased for her babylike innocence, because she is so new to the Walkers’ games. For example, she is so excitable and keen to be a human sacrifice for the children’s game – even though she has no idea what a sacrifice is!

Secret Water is a new kind of adventure for the Walker children as they are left “marooned” on an island and they are forbidden to sail anywhere by their parents. This is an understandable decision, after the chaos that arose when the children were last left unsupervised in a sailing boat in We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea. I liked this, as it meant the book was  more focused on exploring territory and describing the surrounding scenery, unlike some of the other books, which contain a lot more technical language about sailing that I just don’t understand.

As well as the new setting, another new addition to Secret Water are the new children the Walkers meet and make friends with: Don, Daisy, Dum and Dee. I wasn’t particularly bothered about these new characters, as I think the eight book in a series is quite late to be introducing new characters, and I didn’t think there was anything particularly interesting or exciting about them.

Nonetheless, I still greatly enjoyed Secret Water and it’s definitely one of my favourites in the series.

– Judith

Book Review: The Time Machine

The Time Machine (1895) is a science fiction novella by H.G. Wells and is about, oddly enough, a Time Machine.

The novella has a frame narrative and an embedded narrative; the Time Traveller (yes, that is the only name he’s given) hosts a dinner party, inviting a variety of guests to tell them about his journeys through time. The embedded narrative then begins, as the Time Traveller retells what has happened to him.

The opening frame narrative was quite dull, as the dinner guests discuss space, time, mathematics, and psychology. This was not the gripping and dramatic opening I had been hoping for.

Once the Time Traveller arrives and begins to tell his story though, things liven up. He’s eccentric and clever, which I suppose is now the blueprint for other fictional time travellers like Doctor Who.

The Time Traveller travels to Earth, A.D. 802,701, where he meets the Eloi, a species of adults that have child-like language and small attention spans because they have achieved and acquired everything possible, so there is no need for work or intelligence. This is an interesting social commentary: is it better to have everything in life but be forever bored, or to have work and goals to achieve within your lifetime?

There is a second species on Earth too – the Morlocks – who are underworld, carnivorous creatures who prey on the vulnerable Eloi in the dark. The scenes with the Morlocks were a little scary, in a similar way to the vicious Martian attacks upon mankind in Wells’ later novel War of the Worlds. These two opposing species prompt lots of interesting questions and were obvious symbols of good versus bad, upper-class versus lower-class, and so on.

The Time Machine is an incredibly creative work of fiction and good fun to read. Like War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells has provided a social commentary on the society at the time, which is in some ways still applicable today. However, I didn’t find this book quite as engaging as War of the Worlds, which was slightly disappointing, given how many praise it for being one of the first proper works of science fiction.

In many ways, The Time Machine is a science fiction story because of its focus on time, space, physics and aliens. However, it’s also incredibly similar to utopian or dystopian novels such as Thomas More’s Utopia (1516) and Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726). It’s funny how so many novels supposedly predict the future, whilst only commenting on the present.

– Judith