Book: Journey to the Center of the Earth

The book: Journey to the Center of the Earth, by Jules Verne

The edition: Dover Thrift English edition, a republication of Routledge’s 1876 edition, 155 pages (I couldn’t find mention of the translator)

The story: following the suggestion of an old manuscript, professor Otto Lidenbrock drags his nephew Axel on a journey that descends through volcanic tubes supposedly in order to reach the center of the Earth. Impossible adventures ensue.

My experience with the book & my thoughts: I wasn’t a big fan of Verne as a child, but I did enjoy some of his books. My husband was way bigger a fan than me, and it was his idea that I read Journey to the Center of the Earth. Unfortunately, this one clashes with everything I know, and I kept thinking “this is not true, this cannot be true, stop it, you cannot think I will believe this”. That said, Verne’s style is still the same good, 19th century style that I recalled — dated, but passionate.

The part with spoilers: the potential thrill was killed for me by first person narrative. If the narrator had evidently survived (and lived to tell the tale), I just couldn’t be worried for him. Also, I feel that there were enough hints to the fact that all of them survived, so that it didn’t come as a surprise. Things grow more and more unbelievable towards the end, though.

What I liked: the only part I really enjoyed was the decryption of the initial enigma. But I can see the fascination of this kind of book on a younger audience. I also liked the touch of irony.

What I didn’t like: the three main characters. There was nothing likeable in any of them.

Language & translation: I imagine it feels dated to an English mother-tongue reader, but it felt eloquent to me. Nice choice of words.

In the author’s own words: a touch of irony:

Now, in mineralogy, there are many names difficult to pronounce — half Greek, half Latin, barbarous appellations which would blister the lips of a poet. I have no wish to speak ill of the science. Far from it. But when one has to do with rhomboidal crystallisations, retinasphaltic resins, galena favosite, molybdates of lead, tungstates of manganese, and titanites of zircon, the most nimble tongue may be allowed to stumble.

A touch of adventure:

“It is a colossal porpoise!”
“Yes,” said my uncle, “and there is a sea-lizard of uncommon size.”
“And beyond that a monstrous crocodile! See the great jaws and the rows of teeth! Ah! he is gone.”
“A whale! a whale!” exclaimed the professor.
Hans wanted to turn up into the wind to escape this dangerous neighbourhood; but on that side, new enemies, no less formidable, came into view; a turtle, forty feet long, a serpent, thirty feet, who moved his enormous head with a darting motion above the waves.

And some interesting descriptions of Iceland:

It would have been difficult to lose one’s way in Reikiavik, seeing there are but two streets, so I was not obliged to ask my way by making signs, which exposes one to many mistakes.

Links to better understand this book:

Random thought: is there a connection between giants and volcanoes? They see a giant in this book, and people were afraid of giants in the other book I recently read about a volcano.

Read this if: if you enjoyed other novels by Verne

Counts as: One! Two! Theme! Challenge – Geology/Vulcanology #2, Travel with Books – Iceland

Book: The Blue Fox

The book: The Blue Fox, by Sjon

The edition: Portuguese translation by Maria João Freire de Andrade, as published by Cavalo de Ferro (softcover edition), 107 pages

The story: Baldur Skuggason is out hunting a blue fox. His hunt is an obsession. And their story is also the story of Abba, a young mentally challenged girl.

My experience with the book & my thoughts: we were supposed to go to Iceland, and looking through the few Icelandic titles at the library I was tempted by this booklet (just over 100 pages, sparsely written) which was publicized as the winner of the Nordic Council Literature Prize 2005. (Unfortunately, we won’t be traveling there at this time…)
In a way, the book reminded me of Maxence Fermine’s three “color” books (Snow, The Black Violin, The Beekeper), with its very short chapters telling a story that can have plenty of different meanings. Still, I had the feeling that in this case most of the meanings were lost on me, and they would on most non-Icelanders, too. (My husband also read this, and we tried to share ideas on it, but we were basically scratching our heads and falling silent.)

What I liked: the delicate way in which the author depicted the world and feelings of two mentally challenged characters. I almost cried when I realized the answer to Halfdan’s question “Where is Abba?”.

What I didn’t like: the violence of the hunting and killing scenes.

Language & translation: I cannot really say much about this. But I found an interesting information inside the Times’ review of this book (please beware, that review contains spoilers, heaps of them; but it also has some good leads for a better understanding):

I came across the information on the internet that the Icelandic for “blue fox” is skugga-baldur, making hunter and prey in some sense identical. (The translated book does not tell us that.)

Random thought: I can’t name even one single song by Bjork (Sjon wrote the lyrics to her songs)

Read this if: if you like books to leave you with more questions than answers.