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: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

I’ve chosen a highly recommended novel, set in one of the countries Phileas Fogg visited, in Jules Verne’s Around The World In Eighty Days, to review.

The final stop on the journey is America, so I have chosen to read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is a children’s story which follows Tom Sawyer and his friend Huckleberry Finn as they explore the surrounding area, making up games and going on adventures. When the two boys become accidentally caught up in a murder mystery case, they have to decide whether to keep quiet, and avoid punishment for sneaking out at night, or reveal the truth and risk the wrath of a terrible gang.

I really enjoyed reading this book, as I haven’t read any children’s stories in a while, and it can be really refreshing to read them with an adult perspective.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is an all-round good, boyish, adventure story full of fun and humour. Twain’s style of writing is very sarcastic and witty, and I would love to read more of his work.

Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are very superstitious – they are always keeping an eye out for supernatural creatures and discussing various “spells” they can use. It’s light-hearted fun, but has a powerful purpose in the book, as ultimately, this is how they stumble across the scene of the murder.

However, the American language certainly takes some getting used to. As it was written in 1876, there are multiple uses of now archaic words which could trip you up and the dialogue is often written phonetically, to convey accent and tone, but this can also be a challenge to read.

The glaring issue with reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer nowadays, is the blatant use of racist language and stereotypes by the characters. Whilst this was normal at the time, particularly when considering America’s history with racism towards African Americans, I found it uncomfortable to read such discriminatory thoughts and attitudes in a more progressive and accepting era. It’s particularly worrying when you remember that this was a children’s story, and so could have taught white American children to take this attitude too.

Yet, if you can look past the racist comments and understand the lingo, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is a genuinely enjoyable book, and Mark Twain is a talented writer.

 

– Judith

Book Review: Memoirs Of A Geisha

I’ve chosen a highly recommended novel, set in one of the countries Phileas Fogg visited, in Jules Verne’s Around The World In Eighty Days, to review.

The fourth stop on the journey is Japan, so I have chosen to read Memoirs Of A Geisha by Arthur Golden.

This was quite possibly my favourite book of the entire week.

Set in the time of World War 2, Memoirs Of A Geisha is a historical novel about a young girl named Chiyo. She is taken from her home village to Kyoto, the city which used to be the capital of Japan, to train to become a Geisha. She tries to make friends along the way, but makes rivalries amongst the other women in her okiya, particularly Hatsumomo. Chiyo completes her rigorous training regime and becomes Sayuri, a beautiful and influential Geisha.

I found this book so informative, and I was eager to read on – not only to unravel Golden’s story but to learn more about Japanese culture and history. Golden is certainly an expert on all things Japanese – an extract from the dust jacket on the book says:

‘Arthur Golden… is a 1978 graduate of Harvard College with a degree in art history, specialising in Japanese art. In `1980 he earned an M.A in Japanese history from Columbia University where he also learned Mandarin Chinese. After a summer at Beijing University, he went to work at a magazine in Tokyo.’

The descriptions in this book were stunning and Chiyo was a very imaginative narrator; all she described was linked in some way to nature and the elements, creating a calm and soothing atmosphere.

I liked the fact that retrospective narration was used in places because it was like the narrator was “pressing pause” to explain a certain Japanese custom or character in further detail so we could understand better.

Yet I still found Memoirs Of A Geisha quite shocking to read. I began this book by thinking that a Geisha was just a Japanese prostitute. Once we see Chiyo take part in non-sexual acts such as tea parties, dance and the art of conversation, I thought I was proved wrong. However, once Chiyo reaches adulthood, sex is permitted and finding a Danna (a kind of “sugar daddy”, I think) is actively encouraged by her okiya. Here, the book takes a slightly darker turn as Chiyo effectively prostitutes herself and this was more difficult to read.

Nonetheless, I still found this book incredibly educational and enjoyable, and if you want to learn about Japanese culture, I strongly recommend it to you.

 

– Judith