Monday, March 17, 2008

Book Review: Five Weeks in a Balloon by Jules Verne

Five Weeks in a Balloon was Jules Verne's first novel, yet not one of his most famous. The story follows two friends and their man servant as they attempt to cross Africa, from east to west, in a hydrogen balloon. The structure of the story is somewhat formulaic and the characters quite recogniseable from other Verne novels (many see this as a prototype for "Around the World in 80 days"), but it is a successful and exciting formula which is employed, meaning that the adventurers move from crisis to crisis as they traverse the dark continent.

Dr Fergusson, the leader of the expedition, is a rather unflappable character who maintains that nothing can go wrong, although of course the novel consists of a string of events that are a consequence of things going wrong, and all three friends behave in that unimpressed, "stiff upper lip" attitude that was typical of English gentlemen of the period. Much of the text deals with scientific references and intricate description of scientific instruments and geographic features so typical of Jules Verne, who successfully turns fiction into something that could pass for fact.

Similarly to other Verne novels, events are dealt with in the briefest of fashions, so that those who like in-depth insights into the plot and characters would be disappointed, but those who like a good old-fashioned adventure story will be quite happy.

It is also interesting to note that although "Five Weeks in a Balloon" is not one of Verne's most famous stories, it has a fame of sorts as it seems to have crept into many film adaptations of "Around the World in 80 Days" which include a balloon trip, which of course does not exist in the novel.

I found this a more enjoyable story, with more likeable characters than "Around the World in 80 Days" and many other of Verne's novels, and although it is just a page turner with very little depth, it is a nice light read.

Score: 7.5/10

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