This is one of those classics that has passed into the common consciousness. Who doesn't know the story of Phileas Fogg and his bet that he could travel around the world in exactly 80 days? But how many of us have actually read the book? I certainly hadn't; my understanding of the story was informed entirely by the Spanish cartoon series Round the World with Willy Fog, which according to Wikipedia is one of the most faithful adaptations around.
Following a bet at a gentlemen's club, Phileas Fogg is attempting a round-the-world trip in 80 days. If he fails, he will lost £20,000. Accompanied by his faithful servant Passepartout, Fogg has worked out an exact timetable of ships and trains, but unforeseen circumstances force them to take more unusual forms of transport. The pair are chased by Inspector Fix, who is convinced that Fogg is a bank robber.
This is really a classic adventure story. A seemingly impossible task being made more difficult by a series of hitches, all of which have to be overcome with ingenuity, derring-do and intelligence. All of which is accomplished with never an eyebrow hair out of place for our hero. But it also gives an interesting and sometimes humorous insight into perceptions of foreign places at the time. The book is full of witty asides about the various races that Fogg meets on his journey - most of which I'm sure modern day writers would never get away with.
What I found most surprising was very English the book is, despite having been written by a Frenchman. Fogg is the quintessential English gentleman - imperturbable in the face of misadventure and delays, and yet passionate about justice and, we see by the end, love. Fog disguises, and the aptly named Mr Fogg is a man of mystery. We don't know how he got his money, although we know he has plenty, we know nothing of his background. And he is less than forthcoming with any information. It's this lack of information about who Fogg really is that makes Fix so sure that Fogg is the bank robber - and when this information becomes common knowledge in London, even Fogg's friends have to admit they know nothing about him. Fix can suggest either in a fix or fix it. And at various times in the story the Inspector fulfills both roles, at turns helping and hindering Fogg.
Does Phileas Fogg win his bet? Is a gentleman thief? Well, you'll have to read the book to find out, but it's well worth it.