On the list for a dinner invite

Do you ever come across an author, and wonder "How on earth have I managed to avoid reading him/her, and why have I done so?". I have never read Jules Verne. I know a fair number of his stories from watching the films (gorgeous James Mason as wicked Captain Nemo in Twenty thousand leagues under the sea, and dapper David Niven (my Mum's favourite) in Around the world in eighty days, and then, of course, there was explorer and Python, Michael Palin, doing his own homage to world travel), I knew also that Verne is considered to be one of the greatest, and earliest writers of science fiction, and I'm a big sci-fi fan, but somehow I have never got round to reading him. Then, at a loose end, and with a free e-download of Around the world in eighty days, I finally started to read it. It was a case of "Where have you been all my life?" - Jules Verne is a complete and utter delight.

If I was going to throw a dinner party for authors, he would undoubtedly be on the list. He may be more than slightly dead, but Around the world in eighty days is as much about the enthusiasms and sheer joie de vivre of the author, as he took me on a whistle-stop tour of the brave new technological world of the nineteenth century. I laughed, I gasped, I goggled, I groaned - what a book.

A quick bit of background - Verne's novel opens in London in 1872. A group of gents at a London club read an article in the Daily Telegraph (I suspect that the article may indeed have been published), which states that with the completion of a railway across India allied with various other recent trans-continental rail links, it is now possible to circumnavigate the world in eighty days. The Reform Club's most boring member, Phileas Fogg, rather surprisingly reveals an adventurous side, and makes a bet that he will do exactly what the Telegraph has suggested. And just like that, he's off...

Despite discovering that the railway in India hasn't quite been completed (us Brits are good at that kind of thing, why do you think most of our motorways have cones all over them?), brief stops to rescue damsels in distress, buffalo jams and opium dens, and a case of mistaken identity, Fogg and his loyal French servant, Passepartout, carry on regardless, with the delightful, and none too bright, Detective Fix close on their tail.

I just loved the whole story, the whole concept of it. Verne's delight in the new technology of the day, and his hopes for the future shine out. He's so enthusiastic, so knowledgeable, such fun. It's a cracking, optimistic tale, full of the joys of life. If you haven't read him yet, please do. And start with Around the world in eighty days, you won't be disappointed.

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