EIghty Days to Elsewhere
Eighty Days to Elsewhere is a cute-unto-cutesy slice of women’s fiction with some unfortunate problems. With lots of typical rom-commy asides and a sense of silliness that works for instead of against the book, it’s a generally pleasant ride, with a writing style that keeps it warmly engaging instead of shrilly distant. Unfortunately, some of the author’s writing choices keep it out of recommendation range..
Ramona – Romy – Keene is a native New Yorker whose whole life revolves around the Two Queens Bookshop, run by her beloved uncles. Ramona mainly does social media and publicity work for the shop, but often dreams of going pro with her photography after securing a Parisian education. But though she yearns for travel, she’s never had the money with which to undertake such a grand plan, and besides that has a fear of leaving her uncles behind.
Circumstances take quite a turn when Frank Venel, her uncles’ landlord, show up with the building’s new lease and informs Romy that the rent will be tripled on the building – and if they can’t make it, they will be removed and the shop demolished.
Romy decides that the best way to make the money quickly will be to get a second job. Soon enough, she’s applied to ExLibris Expeditions, an agency that recreates literary-centered journeys for modern citizens. She’s offered a paid internship with a single demand – she is to reenact the path taken in Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days, circumventing the globe in an equable amount of time and following Phileas Fogg’s route, without using modern transportation. She is to take what she learns on the journey and plot a similar journey for her client. If she makes it back before the stroke of midnight after eighty days, she’ll have a permanent job.
It’s not the easiest journey in the world, especially when you’ve never been south of East Fifty-Seventh Street before. But she embarks with adventure in her heart and competition breathing down her neck. She’s barely stepped onto the boat taking her to her first destination when she meets gourmet-leaning Dominic – Dom – Madison, who turns out to be Venel’s nephew. Cue a battle of wits and loins as Dom and Romy begin to fall in love as they race around the world together. But who will be the victor by the time they get home?
Eighty Days to Elsewhere is one of those plots that’s predictable but easy to stomach and even amusing. There’s a sense of fun about it, even when it’s incredibly flawed, particularly considering that if Romy’s journey is to be an accurate recreation she should be starting in London, and that Canada was most definitely not on Phileas Fogg’s original route!
Romy is a very accessible heroine, and her romance with Dom is a typical love-hate affair. They travel the world and get into typical Americans-overseas-troubles, from vomming after having Egyptian schwarma to a close-up encounter with Rams in the Canadian wilds. She is plucky and relatable. He is high-handed, until he’s driven beyond his limits into goofiness. They make a decent couple but their romance isn’t terribly interesting compared to Romy’s coming out of her shell as an adult.
But the book’s been-there ness definitely affects its enjoyability. There’s also a bit where Dom observes he’s “too brown” to attract a driver in Canada due to the tan he’s acquired overseas which is enough to make the audience wince. While it never again dips to such levels, this is one instance where the book’s repeated comparisons between Romy’s situation and the characters in Eat Pray Love feel all too real. The book tries to counterbalance this sort of stuff with the introduction of a Somali teenager, Sumaya, who has decent depth and serves to wake up Dom and Romy to their own notions about life outside of their American privilege bubbles. This works sometimes and sometimes does not.
The book, at past 400 pages, feels a little overlong, and the pacing is ever so slightly off in an annoying way. There are a few other milder though more inexcusable mistakes. At one point, Jacqueline Susann’s name is misspelled as Jacqueline Suzanne, something that would make the publicity hungry author roll over in her grave, and something bookshop worker Romy should know how to spell. Plus the author tries to sell the idea of Romy’s journey as something wildly original and completely ignores the fact that modern versions of Verne’s route have been undertaken before.
Eighty Days to Elsewhere is a decent piece of work and engaging enough, but it doesn’t sufficiently distinguish itself from the women’s fiction pile to justify its existence.