A few weeks ago I decided that the time for new reading material has come. Only thirty bucks and a week later, more than twenty books found their new home on my shelves. A couple of days ago I finally finished the first one: 20 000 leagues under the sea.
Little disclaimer at the beginning: I did read the book in German, so I don’t know how much my comments on the writing style apply to the English version. Also, this post contains spoilers and general hints at the plot.
During the year 1866, ships of several nations spot a mysterious sea monster. The United States government assembles an expedition in New York City to find and destroy the monster. Professor Pierre Aronnax, a French marine biologist and narrator of the story receives a last-minute invitation to join the expedition which he accepts. Canadian whaler and master harpoonist Ned Land and Aronnax’s faithful servant Conseil are also brought aboard.
The expedition departs Brooklyn aboard the United States Navy frigate Abraham Lincoln and travels south around Cape Horn into the Pacific Ocean. The ship finds the monster after a long search and then attacks the beast, which damages the ship’s rudder. The three protagonists are then hurled into the water and grasp hold of the “hide” of the creature, which they find, to their surprise, to be a submarine very far ahead of its era. They are quickly captured and brought inside the vessel, where they meet its enigmatic creator and commander, Captain Nemo.
The rest of the story follows the adventures of the protagonists aboard the creature—the submarine, the Nautilus—which was built in secrecy and now roams the seas free from any land-based government.
The first thing I have to say is that I expected something very different from this book. I thought it was about them going 20 000 miles deep in the ocean and not just generally travel 20 000 miles underwater. By now, I did realise that you cannot go that deep in the ocean.
This assumption might have been one of the reasons I didn’t find it as thrilling as it probably is because I always waited for them to finally dive deeper and deeper. It took me about halfway through the book to realise that this wouldn’t happen and I’m not proud of it.
Generally the book is written kinda dry and rational; it feels more like a list of events than an actual story. This style of writing obviously makes sense with the narrator, a scientist after all, but it didn’t manage to fully pull me into the story and keep me on the edge of my seat as to what happens next.
As I said, the book lacks a bit of emotion and it failed to fully suck me in and this is not down to the fact, that there’re no chances for it; it’s the complete opposite, actually. There is an enormous potential for drama to happen and to build up suspense, but it wasn’t used.
All the problems that appear are handled pretty well, everyone keeps (more or less) calm, and they always think of a rational and realistic solution – as realistic as it can get in that sort of story – and are in fact able to solve all the problems. On the one hand, it’s a nice change to have a story with characters who can handle stuff (just think of all the bad decisions made in horror movies), but on the other hand it doesn’t help to build tension. At some point, you stop getting your hopes up because they will solve the problem anyway.
For me, the most thrilling part was when they got stuck in Antarctica. I found myself getting nervous and a bit worried that they are going to die right there and then, even though there were a lot of pages left. For the first time it really seemed hopeless. It might be because of my absolute fear of closed of rooms or caves of any sort with no access to fresh air, but I do think it was the best written part of the whole book. And I was just a bit annoyed that they made it out and survived.
The moment the whole book worked towards, the escape of Aronnax, Conseil and Ned Land near Norway, is over in such a short time. You don’t even have time to get into it because the next thing you know is that they’re stranded and – of course – nothing happened to them.
All in all it was a good book. I wish I would see all of those things – without the Antarctica incident – and then I would hope that all those problems get solved as well. But it’s not one of my favourites and I don’t think I would read it again.
Have you read the book? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments.
Love, Jacky N.