Title: Three Men in a Boat
Author: Jerome K. Jerome
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Publication Date: 25th March 2004 (first published 1889)
Paperback: 224 pages
Why did I choose to read this book? It’s my Dad’s favourite book and he bought it for me for my birthday this year.
Where to read? It might be the obvious choice but a weekend trip on a barge along the Thames would be the perfect venue – just make sure you take someone along to deal with all the locks!
Alternatively if this is a bit of a daunting idea then go and sit on the banks of your local river or a cafe like the ‘Tide Table Cafe’ in Richmond.
A motley crew of hypochondriac friends and their canine sidekick take to the Thames for a few days holiday. Dreams of merrily boating up the river and enjoying feasts and ribaldry around the campfire are soon dashed as they find themselves dealing with the difficulties of navigating, towing not to mention the interminable British summer weather. These incidents are wonderfully interjected with various anecdotes from the characters’ lives thereby creating a novella that represents beautifully the spirit of the Victorian period.
The story is narrated by the character J. He is typically British and his monologue is ripe with observational humour on his society. The self-diagnosis and hypochondria that afflicts him and his friends is only really relevant to the beginning of the story and is a warning to anyone who is about to click on the NHS website with their own suspicions. Their final analysis does however prove pivotal to the story and leads us rather theatrically to the boat trip itself.
The thing I enjoyed most about the book was the continuous digression from actual events. As a reader we’re taken on a journey not only down the Thames but through the characters’ lives, thanks to the frequent anecdotes brought to life by our protagonist. The most notable referred to George and his alarm clock and his resulting night time excursions. I’ll leave you to discover the finer details.
There aren’t really words to describe these characters other than lovable buffoons. This is because I defy anyone not to recognise one of their experiences reflected in their own lives. Their somewhat spontaneous decision to go on this trip and lack of thinking it through properly leads to a series of ridiculous eventualities. The incident with Harris’ scrambled eggs and the attempts to open a tin of pineapple chunks by bashing the hell out of it brought back, not so distant, memories of trying to open a corked bottle of wine with a number of implements all of which weren’t a bottle opener.
Overall this is a heart-warming and classically British story that can be picked up and read over and over again without ever getting old – largely because friends will always end up doing ridiculous things together.
Rating: 8 out of 10