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18) Around the World in Eighty Days, by Jules Verne

After watching the dismal Steve Coogan/Jackie Chan film on the plane a couple of weeks ago, I realised I had the novel on my PDA and decided to re-read it. And, well, it's good. There's a little bit of the nerdishness recently satirised here, in that every means of transport is described in total detail. There are one and a half total implausibilities in the plot. But basically, this is a story of its time, full of the new wonders available in 1872 - the Suez Canal had been open for only three years, so had the rail link across the United States,and of course the whole point of the book is that the railway across India opened only that year. And this is an India only fifteen years on from the 1857 Mutiny - as far as we are from the fall of Communism; a Japan that has just experienced the Meiji restoration; a United States recovering from the Civil War, and doing its best to deal with the Mormons. And of course this is written by an author whose own native France has been devastated by a catastrophic military defeat the previous year, and is a determined attempt to look outwards and forwards.

The half implausibility I mentioned above is this. The whole basis of the story is that as a result of the trans-Indian railway being completed, our hero, Phileas Fogg, makes a bet that he can go around the world in eighty days. Well, when he gets to India, it turns out the railway hasn't been completed; and he has to complete the rest of the journey by elephant, rescuing the beautiful Aouda on the way. Now come on; the whole basis of the bet was that the railway was there, and surely the gap between Kholby and Allahabad is sufficient cause to call the bet off?

The complete and total implausibility is the punchline of the entire book, where we are asked to believe that in the course of 26 days travel between the International Date Line and London, none of our leading characters had actually checked the date and realised that they were a day ahead of themselves. So they saw no newspapers and experienced no weekends in America or between Cork and Dublin or Liverpool and London; and the schedule of steamers in New York and railways in Ireland and England was utterly insensitive to the day of the week? Come off it! Of course the plot simply doesn't work unless you are prepared to overlook this gaping hole in it, and most people do.

And how come all the bells in London strike at ten to nine anyway? Philip José Farmer had an explanation of this in The Other Log of Phileas Fogg, an otherwise completely forgettable effort. Apart from the points noted above, this is really fun and everyone should read it.

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