Sunday, March 4, 2007
Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)
Jerome K. Jerome 1859-1927
An awesome book from a guy with an awesome name. Written in 1889, this travelogue of the Thames was so popular that boat registrations on the river went up 50% the year after publication of Three Men in a Boat. Jerome acted in London for awhile before trying his hand at writing. Following his honeymoon trip on the river he penned his most famous book.
Unlike most funny novels Three Men in a Boat holds up well today. The story is about three friends, they are real friends; they fight, laugh and make fun of each other. The gentlemen are well-off and lazy. They decide a boat trip on the Thames would be good for their health. The river is the fourth main character in the narrative. Not being familiar with the region, some of the references went right over my head. Jerome's description of the trip is alternatively hilarious, historical and sappily beautiful. The book is more episodic than linear, as J. (the main character) describes the history and beauty of the river. He is joined by the rotund George, the constantly imbibing Harris and the dog, Montmorency. The novel details the packing, boats, tents, food, mazes and songs that go into such an endeavor. The humor is dry and biting, a sarcastic humor I think of when I think of British comedy. The language is shockingly common and realistic. Jerome has a round about way of making a point that reminds me of Dickens and a rapier wit similar to Wilde. To Jerome's credit, Three Men makes you want to travel to London and hang out with the characters. They seem like fun, normal guys despite the cultural and chronological separation from today.
And I haven't really spoke about the dog. Montmorency always seems to have "friends," all of them brutish roaming dogs, hanging about. The group arrives at a landing where Montmorency has 25 fights in two days, the dog feels like "he was in heaven." There was a sequel to Three Men in a Boat called Three Men on a Brummel, about cycling through Germany.
Quotes and main themes
-"I like work. It fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours."
-During a comic scene of inept packing for the trip J. comments, "When George is hanged, Harris will be the worst packer in the world."
Rating: 10/10 Maybe not the greatest book ever, maybe not the most well-constructed, but I enjoyed reading this as much as any novel I've encountered. There are very few books this old that has humor which still thrives today.