If you’re after a classic nineteenth century adventure novel, then this is one book I heartily recommend. I’m happy to say that this is one of my very favourites of its kind.
The story follows a group of three people (Professor Aronnax, his servant Conseil and a whaler called Ned Land) who find themselves on board the Nautilus, a highly advanced submarine belonging to the mysterious Captain Nemo. The four of them become involved in various adventures under the sea, all while wondering if any of them will ever get a chance to get home.
Captain Nemo is probably my favourite thing about this book. He’s such an enigmatic character. He has exiled himself to the bottom of the sea, after growing to hate humanity. This is possible due to the extremely advanced capabilities of his submarine and the fact that he makes genius use of the resources available to him under the water. It made me ponder the question, could somebody really manage to live exclusively under the ocean? It’s quite a whimsical image. On board, he has a huge library filled with many books and the idea of this library travelling under the sea was really very charming to me. This was just one of several things which Captain Nemo and his crew have on their vessel.
It wasn’t just his curious living situation which drew me to him though. As the story goes on, you’re left to decide for yourself whether or not Nemo is a sympathetic character and, for me, he certainly was. He acts as a kind of antagonist in that he doesn’t want to allow Aronnax, Conseil or Land to return to land – but this is because he doesn’t want to break his exile. By the end of the novel, you still don’t really know too much about his origins, but I read him as a man who was rebelling against the colonial attitudes of his time. Someone who didn’t want to associate with the increasingly destructive nature of humankind and so had become misanthropic… yet, despite his cold exterior, he’s shown to be a very compassionate man who is very sensitive to the great social injustices of the world. He’s a fascinating character.
The other characters were all pretty likeable too. Ned Land does sometimes come across as a bit of an idiot (and I’m not too keen on him, being a whaler), but even he has his moments. But besides Nemo, I’d say that it was Conseil who was my favourite. He is insanely loyal to Aronnax, even to the extent of endangering his own life, but despite all this, he never loses his calm demeanour – this contrasts (sometimes comedically) against Ned, who’s always quite hot headed. Meanwhile, Aronnax acts as a level-headed mediator and narrator of the story. Aronnax is fascinated by Nemo and is conflicted about whether he truly wants to leave behind the exciting life under the sea, unlike Ned, who definitely wants to get home ASAP. The contrasting interests of the different characters makes for some great reading.
Finally, as someone who finds the ocean really interesting, I enjoyed it being used as the setting for the story. In addition to using several real-life natural phenomenon as story points, it even delves into the world of mythology. At several points throughout the story, the characters head out on the sea bed in diving suits and I just find the whole thing terribly exciting. Plus, you have to respect the fact that Jules Verne did a pretty good job at predicting some of the ways in which submarine technology would improve in the coming years. There was so much to love about this book and if you’ve not read it yet, I strongly recommend it!