Thursday, September 25, 2008

Le tour du monde en 80 jours

Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne, is one of my favorite reads, especially when I'm on the road.

The plot is dead simple: a guy bets some other guys that he can travel all the way around the world quickly, then he travels all the way around the world quickly. There is very little in the way of character development. At the end of the book, the reader knows the little more about the characters than he did at the beginning. Phileas Fogg is rich and English. Passepartout is French and gullible. Inspector Fix is set in his ways. Aouda is pretty. Nor is there much of the tour guide about the book; the characters don't stop to admire their surroundings or see the sights. They just move from one place to another, staying only as long as it takes them to walk from the port to the train station.

In spite of all that, I keep coming back to this story. I've read it half a dozen times in various English editions, and I'm currently struggling through it in the original French. I think the thing that endears it to me, and keeps me coming back to it, is the way that Fogg never lets any of his adventures bother him. His little group misses boats, get attacked by thugs, buy an elephant, rescue a damsel in distress, go through storms at sea, and are harassed by Inspector Fix but nothing ever shakes his cool. That unflappable 'nothing can stop me: I'm British' attitude is what makes the book. When delays on the Metro turn my half an hour commute into an hour long ordeal or when I spend a transatlantic flight stuck in the second to last row between two fat guys, Phileas Fogg is a good friend to have along.

10 out of 10