Book Reviews

So many books (you know the rest)

The Survivors of the Chancellor
by Jules Verne
Published in 1875 (I finished it on September 07, 2011)

Sometimes the stories of how I came to acquire a new book are more interesting than the book itself. Well, I dunno. This book was pretty cool; however, it never completely drew me in. If not for the personal ties, I might not have enjoyed it so much.

So how did I choose this book?

Weeks before, I had been watching an episode of LOST. The scene was out on the small ship and I believe a character walking by a “security guard” pointed out that her book was upside down (she may even have been sleeping). She righted the book and the scene moved on.

Obviously, I paused the DVD, backed it up and stopped it at the point where it showed the upside-down book. I took a moment and finally made out the title: “Survivors of the Chancellor.” Now one thing about great writers is that they don’t do a lot of random meaningless things (yes, I know the show seems like that at times), but I knew this book was chosen for a reason. I Googled it and found it to be an old novella by Jules Verne. My next stop was It arrived in the mail in about a week.

A few days later, I was mentioning this to my father. He asked if I bought it in French. Oops! Did not even think to do so. Clumsy me. Thus, I read the English translation. However, I probably would not have finished the French version by now.

As for the book? Like I said, it’s good, but not great. It reads as a diary telling of a shipwreck and includes all the gruesome details of having to survive such conditions. Verne reminds me somewhat of Defoe in that his story-telling is done so well that it comes across as more fact than fiction. It also borrowed from some true events, which never hurts a story’s verisimilitude.

The characters aren’t very dynamic in that they don’t really change much over the course of the adventure. But I got to thinking that it’s pretty common for real life people to remain who they are for the most part. Perhaps leopards can change their spots, but most of the time, they just don’t. And if the style is meant to be realistic, it should mimic real people.

What was pretty interesting, however, was the creative ways people tried to acquire food and water. I’ve often pondered such questions. How would I catch fish or sharks as a castaway? Could I make a still to desalinize the salt water? At one point, they laid out large sails to catch rainwater, but found the soaked up water undrinkable because the ocean had infused too much saltwater into the sails as the days had passed. Plus, there were examples of the necessity of temperance, as seen when a small storm was a blessing in that it provided much needed water, but a large tempest would destroy the raft and take lives. A lost life could serve as bait or food, but morality issues would arise when those situations did. Tough questions and even tougher answers.

Oh, and for the “LOST” ties? Well, there are explosives on board the ship and a fire is out of control. The passengers are destined for hard times ahead. There are several untrustworthy characters. Yeah, the book has some fine connections to the television series.

And above all, it’s still ironic for someone to want to be reading about a shipwreck when she’s on a boat in the ocean.