Armed with little more than their courage and ingenuity, five Union prisoners escape the siege of Richmond, Virginia - but not by steamboat, by train, or even on foot. Instead, these desperate but resourceful souls construct a hot-air balloon and climb aboard - with no idea if they will ever see civilization again. Swept off course by a raging storm, they land on the shores of an uncharted island.
Thus begins a classic fable of men coming face-to-face with the forces of nature, which are by turns harsh and generous. In these conditions, an engineer, his faithful servant, a journalist, a sailor, and a boy of fifteen must undertake the huge, if not impossible, task of reconstructing the civilization they left behind. Filled with action, The Mysterious Island has gripped countless readers with its intrigue and knuckle-whitening suspense, and it continues to compel us today.
Genre: Classic, "Robinsonade"
Length: Mass Market Paperback - 500 pages
To begin with, it took me a very long time to get through this book. It was one of those that you continually set aside and forget about and then debate whether or not to start over or just try and pick up where you left off. Luckily for me, picking up in the middle of story after a time away from a book is no problem and so after a year of travel-reading, I finally made The Mysterious Island my nighttime reading project and finished it off.
The reason it was so easy to put aside is obvious: it's not exactly the most engaging read. While I loved Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver's Travels (not exactly the same genre, but I kept comparing them as I read), The Mysterious Island just didn't do it for me. It requires a suspension of disbelief that didn't quite fit with the narrative. While I could easily believe that Crusoe survived so long on his wits alone and even that a race of talking horses existed in Gulliver, Verne's work was by turns believable and then incredibly preposterous.
Verne goes into excruciating (and I do mean excruciating) detail on how the engineer is able to invent kilns, nitroglycerin, and even hydraulic lifts in an effort to make us believe that such things are possible. And, having seen Lost's Arntz blow himself up simply by holding dynamite, I was slightly sceptical but still willing to admit that it was possible. It seems that everyone stranded on Lincoln Island is an utter genius at least in their own area and I was all right with that. If he didn't want to write a novel about men perishing a week into their stay on the island, then Verne would have to write particularly clever men. What I couldn't get over was some of the more implausible events. Like a balloon from Virginia somehow making it to the South Pacific. In a world like Lost, that's fine, because the world allows for such things, but Verne's doesn't. And furthermore, I am willing to believe the explanation given for the destruction of the island (volcanoes + crumbling volcanic wall + sea water = explosion?) because I don't know any better, but if your island explodes and sinks beneath the ocean, you are not surviving. Every single one of them, including the dog, survived on the one piece of granite left from the explosion. Uh-huh. The point here is, that this kind of thing jarred me out of the immersion even more than the long-winded explanations (really, if you plan to be stranded on a deserted island, take this book as an instructional guide ... and then tell me how that works out).
And then we have the mystery. Only it took 200+ pages before anything mysterious happened at all. And then it was acts of some unseen deus-ex-machina who causes things to appear or events to unfold only when the colonists (because they claim the island for the US, of course :P) are in dire need. We don't find out who or what he is until the final four chapters and it was not worth the wait. Wikipedia is telling me The Mysterious Island is a sequel to Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and I sort of disagree; it seems much more like a crossover to me. Granted, the entirety of the action takes place on Lincoln Island so it very well could be the same universe, but there were no hints whatsoever until the very end when - surprise - the mysterious force of the island is revealed to be Captain Nemo. O rly?
Overall, the novel isn't bad. The theme is solid and the characters are at least likable. Everyone learns that nature is neither good nor evil, and that it gives humankind everything it needs to survive and be happy. It is only men (and women! ... not that there are any women in this novel. No really, not one.) who can be malicious and the colonists only ever have to face that malice when invaded by pirates. In the end, after the "big" reveal, the island's volcano somehow explodes the entire landmass and our heroes are left in the ocean for a week before being rescued. And then they go right on colonizing in the American west ... or somewhere, I don't really think the location is important. </center>
I was extremely disappointed in the novel because I was mainly attracted to the mystery. And that fell rather flat. If only it was titled something else! The Chronicles of the Castaways of Lincoln Island and How They Thrived would do fine. I don't want to say it was bad because it wasn't, I just went into thinking it would slightly more mysterious.