Book reviews, new books, publishing news, book giveaways, and author interviews

Book Review: The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne

mysterious island Book Review: The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne

My recent foray into the oeuvre of Jules Verne has been enlightening in a number of ways. Ive learned how its possible to write multiple books using a cast that varies between books only by name, and how its possible to arrange for said character to escape whatever end-of-the-world situation in which they find themselves by manipulating the Earth itself into a rather impressive series of contortions and natural phenomena. Houdini would be proud.

But in The Mysterious Island, Verne outdoes himself. In fact, I do believe that in it hes written the worlds first strategy game, but on paper. Not only that, but hes cleverly tied it in to his previous work in such a way that I can only imagine the royalties that must have ensued. Good for you, Monsieur Verne.

From the outset Verne presents The Mysterious Island'as something of wonder and imagination: the fact that his heroes arrive on their island by way of hot air balloon is the first telling sign that were about to become embroiled in a narrative of McGuyverian wonders. In Vernes Around the World in Eighty Days, you see, his intrepidly adventurous characters travel by every possible means of transportation save for the hot air balloon, which is briefly discussed as an option upon arriving in America and then summarily dismissed as being too risky and impracticable. And yet, this is exactly how our band of visitors travel from Civil War-era Virginia to their strange island: by what is essentially a flight of fancy.

Upon arrival their island seems utterly deserted and untouched by human effort, and yet strange things begin to happen: rather like in a dodgy first person shooter, mysterious health packs (quinine!) and boxes filled with ammunition crop up all over the place. Moreover, even though all manner of danger and near-death experiences abound, everyone seems to escape harm (or perhaps they respawn?).

However, what strikes me most about The Mysterious Island'and its new posse of residents is that their learning curve very much takes the form of n + 1, where n is the degree of expertise/competence already held by an individual. Rather than being thrown utterly in the deep end as one might imagine would happen upon an island balloon-wrecking, Vernes characters instead find themselves rather comfortably embarking upon a process of upskilling, and this process is helped along by their propitious discoveries of all sorts of goodies. At times its rather like playing a quick round of Civilisation: Vernes chaps go from having nothing to building shelter to learning how to blow glass right the way through to developing subsistence-level agriculture. Next up: space ships!

Its the way that they go about this that is quite striking, particularly when juxtaposed against the current plethora of regressing-to-the-dark-ages postapocalyptic fiction that keeps flooding my reading stacks. For Verne, the world is a thing of wonder: everything holds some sort of scientific or mechanical beauty and manipulability, and his characters seem to veritably delight in exploiting this to its utmost. A mere matchstick is something heaven-sent, while a single grain of wheat is to be treasured for its endless possibilities (and they are endlessthe characters do the maths of seed multiplication to quite an extended degree). Theres a tremendous amount of optimism about their ability to survive in their circumstances, and I cant help but wonder whether this is a) due to the prevailing social mindset at the time b) the n +1 trajectory of their learning or c) the fact that knowledge and expertise in their time was not so dispersed that a mere group of five would likely never be able to survive.

The contrast of this context against that of more modern day SF is notable, as modern day characters are products of a negative, oppressive environment, have deeply siloed knowledge in one particular area, and because of this and also their new circumstances arent given the opportunity to learn at the optimum n + 1 rate. Another thing thats non-existent in the Vernian world is the idea of procreation: Verne typically tends to ignore females altogether, and no matter how fabulous the glass blowing skills or agricultural awareness of The Mysterious Islands'five gentleman, theyre going to die out in a generation unless they get off the island (or the island somehow provides a bounty of young lasses). Much of the recent last-survivor stuff, on the other hand, focuses strongly on reproduction, birthrights and so on, and theres always the assumption that the role of the character is not to go about learning how to harvest wheat, but rather to pop a few out for the good of humanity. Its interesting how for Verne the idea of posterity lies not in familial lines, but rather in the technological impact that one is able to leave on the world.

And indeed, Vernes idea of connectedness comes not from relationships, but from the intellect and its fruits, and I have to admit that no matter how astonishingly, hilariously terrible the ending of this book is, I do kind of love that it ties in with Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea'(oh, Nemo, you joker, you!), and that the eventual earthly tumult that puts an end to the characters island adventure is reminiscent of that of Journey to the Centre of the Earth. Because, for Verne, an adventure is only an adventure if it comes to an endunlike todays postapocalyptic fiction, its about dipping into a savage world rather than truly being a part of it.

Rating: star Book Review: The Mysterious Island by Jules Vernestar Book Review: The Mysterious Island by Jules Vernestar Book Review: The Mysterious Island by Jules Verneblankstar Book Review: The Mysterious Island by Jules Verneblankstar Book Review: The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne (good)

See our other Jules Verne reviews

Support Read in a Single Sitting by purchasing The Mysterious Island'from

Amazon | Book Depository UK | Book Depository USA | Booktopia

Other books by Jules Verne:


20000 leagues under the sea verne Book Review: The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne

journey to the centre of the earth verne Book Review: The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne

around the world in 80 days Book Review: The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne

from the earth to the moon verne Book Review: The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne





No comments