I read a lot of books and I like to think that I am a fast reader. However, this book proved me wrong. It took me about two months to finish this book, over three hundred pages! I’ve read long books before, mostly academic which makes them more skim-able. The past two months of reading this book has taught me that fiction books are harder to skim, at least for me.
In the beginning of March, New York State began a series of quick responses to the novel coronavirus. Around the same time, I accepted a new job and put in my two weeks at my part time jobs. Needless to say, a lot of things were on my mind while I read this book. And no wonder it took me so long!
After being told to work remotely, I quickly took advantage of the extra time not commuting to and from work to read, write, and do domestic work. Now my house is clean, blog posts are drafted, and I finished a book. While I’ve only been working remotely for a week (it feels like a month), I started pacing myself more because there is so much more time to do things than we give ourselves.
Before reading this book, I only knew about the main character, Captain Nemo, and something about a squid. And I expected the book to begin with Captain Nemo, instead I got this protagonist who seemed to be full of himself. It also took me a while to get into Verne’s style of writing and get back into it when I lost interest. No wonder it took me two months!
There is a lot to unpack in this book. And while unpacking it all would make a great book review, I honestly just don’t think it would be fair to those who haven’t read this classic novel before. So, I’ll just give you some things to keep in mind when you do read this book.
I’m the type of person who thinks a strong opening of a book or movie can really make it memorable. The beginning of this book is interesting. It opens with a series of mystery sinkings and sights of a mythical creature being introduced by the protagonist, Professor Pierre Aronnax. He joins an American team to find this creature and stop the linkings. At first Aronnax seems like a typical self centered Frenchmen with a manservant, Conseil. I’m still not sure what a manservant is but based on Conseil’s character, I’m guessing they don’t have much personality and are overly dedicated to their master.
It takes over one hundred pages before we finally meet Captain Nemo and the real adventures happen (after about 50 more pages). This book takes a lot of patience to read. It was written for an audience that did not travel and didn’t have television or the internet. They read about the world around them. Verne was writing to an audience that required detail packed descriptions of literally everything. And those descriptions take up a lot of paper. So the book is long and it’s gonna take you a long time to finish it- deal with it!
While these extra details are a little boring for my tastes, they do not distract from the action and the stories. Verne’s description of the submarine is incredible. It helps the reader understand how the crew survived. . . well I’ll let you read those adventures on your own. I will tell you the Nautilus has a library, small museum, and the walls slide open to expose giant windows! Why hasn’t this been invented yet?!
Throughout the book, Aronnax tries to understand why Captain Nemo left the land and refuses to return. It’s easy to miss the subtle hints into Captain Nemo’s character and how Verne uses that character to make a larger argument.
The overall argument through Aronnax seems to be about environmentalism, specifically preserving oceanic life, and through Nemo, oppressive politics, much more subtle in the book thanks to Verne’s editor. While Aronnax is a prisoner of the Nautilus, he has the freedom to observe wildlife both on and off the land throughout his journey. He also investigates Nemo’s deep hatred for the land. Closer towards the end of his journey, he realizes this hatred stems from Nemo’s lack of freedom from political groups and war.
Apparently, this book is suggested readings for eighth graders. I honestly hope these eighth graders have better attention spans than I do and did when I was thirteen. If you read this for class, I strongly suggest spark notes or a reading group. It is easy to get bogged down in the details and descriptions and lose complete sight of the point.
However, if you want to read it for the pure enjoyment of reading and curiosity of what the book is actually about, then I recommend pairing this book with a bubble bath and ocean sounds from your phone. Make it fun, ya know?
Would I read this book again? Probably, now that I know what parts to skip and which parts are the most fun. I would give this book two and a half out of the five cat emojis 😺😺 (I don’t know how to make a half emoji). It is a classic novel for a reason but it is starting to show its age.