Book Review: Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome

Three Men in a BoatWhat’s it about?

Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog), published in 1889, is a humorous account by Jerome K. Jerome of a boating holiday on the Thames between Kingston and Oxford. The book was initially intended to be a serious travel guide, with accounts of local history along the route, but the humorous elements took over to the point where the serious and somewhat sentimental passages seem a distraction to the comic novel. One of the most praised things about Three Men in a Boat is how undated it appears to modern readers, the jokes seem fresh and witty even today. The three men are based on Jerome himself (the narrator J.) and two real-life friends, George Wingrave (who went on to become a senior manager in Barclays Bank) and Carl Hentschel (the founder of a London printing business, called Harris in the book), with whom he often took boating trips. The dog, Montmorency, is entirely fictional, but “as Jerome admits, developed out of that area of inner consciousness which, in all Englishmen, contains an element of the dog.” The trip is a typical boating holiday of the time in a Thames camping skiff. This is just after commercial boat traffic on the Upper Thames had died out, replaced by the 1880s craze for boating as a leisure activity.

My thoughts

This was our book club choice for May and if I’m honest not really my cup of tea. I know it’s me but I find books intended to be comical not funny.

At the start of each chapter is a sort of introduction, a bulleted list overview of what’s going to happen in that chapter, almost like minutes. I could have just read this and not bothered with the rest of the chapter. I only persevered with this because we’ll be having a book club discussion on it.

The story is narrated by Jerome K Jerome (he is one of the 3 in the boat) and he’s a hypochondriac, he sounds like he has man flu! It takes a little getting used to the language but then you kind of think that this could of actually been written last week. It all seems quite relevant and modern. There were a couple of passages that I liked in particular as I felt these related to us in modern times, which were;

It seems to be a rule of this worldEach person has what he doesn’t want, and other people have what he does want

Are any of us happy with our lot? Isn’t there always something we think we want?

and

How many people, on that voyage, load up the boat till it is ever in danger of swamping with a store of foolish things which they think essential to the pleasure and comfort of the trip, but which are really are only useless lumber

Isn’t this what we do every holiday with our suitcases? Especially us women…

Basically, it’s just 3 mates off on a jolly down the river with a few funny anecdotes and tales thrown in for good measure. Jerome often goes off on a tangent and reminisces about other events and I found this quite boring, thankfully it’s not very long so it’s a quick read.

4/5 of my fellow book clubbers enjoyed this and the general consensus was read if you like TV shows like QI or Have I Got News For You, don’t read if you like stuff like The Vicar of Dibley.

Overall, I wouldn’t recommend this but it’s one of those books we feel we ought to have read at least once. Others will probably be rolling around the floor in hysterics but it just wasn’t for me.

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