Author: Jerome K. Jerome
Illustrator: Vic Reeves
Length: 221 pages
Genre: Fiction; Humour
Publisher: Vintage Classics / 2011
Original Publisher: J.W. Arrowsmith / 1889
Cover Design: Vic Reeves
Reason to Read: I came across this book in an article discussing hilarious Victorians, and Jerome K. Jerome was cited as a prime example of said historical hilarity. I opted to follow the article's recommendation and am thoroughly pleased that I did so.
Have you ever had one of those moments where, for reasons beyond simple explanation, you stumble across a book that fulfills some unknown literary craving you've been harbouring for longer than you care to divulge? Where, upon reading the first page of a text, you start compiling a list in your head of the friends and family members you will disown should they turn down your recommendation of the aforementioned book?
Well, Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog!) has accomplished the unthinkable—Mr. Jerome K. Jerome, Victorian extraordinaire, has won himself a five-star rating from this blogette right here. Apparently, I had a hankering for aquatic (mis)adventures featuring three men, one boat, and one roughnik of a fox terrier.
We cannot choose our passions—we can only choose to pursue them. And oh, the pursuit was a fine one indeed.
Three Men in a Boat, Paul Rainer (1955)
As the book opens, J. airs out his various ailments with his fellow invalids (re: closest friends), George and William Samuel Harris, and with his canine companion, Montmorency. According to a book J. discovered in a library, he is a veritable walking hospital packed with every disease known to mankind—with the notable exception of housemaid's knee, much to his chagrin. As a remedy, the gents decide to head out on the River Thames for a fortnight's worth of adventuring in a bid to cure one another of the general malaise of the nineteenth-century. Of course, the river has other plans in mind for our wandering heroes…
Between navigational challenges and mealtime disasters, and between epic battles with vicious swans, tea kettles, and an impossible tin of pineapple, the three men struggle to survive their pleasant jaunt along the river while offering a glimpse into the delightful pandemonium afforded by life on England's open waters.
I found myself paralyzed from laughter on more than one occasion, and Vic Reeves's apt illustrations added an excellent shot of visual slapstick to some of the funniest moments in Jerome's classic. Some of the absolute gems of Three Men in a Boat include:
- The first attempt of the gents to set up the canvas top to their boat, thereby proving that an Ikea-induced level of frustration is, in fact, not a recent phenomenon;
- The powerful and violent struggle of three adults against a tin of pineapple;
- An imagined conversation between Montmorency and an intimidating cat (with picture);
- Three men being assholes to the steam-launch boats clogging the Thames;
- And the polite denial of George's abilities to A) sing comic songs, and B) to play the banjo, which is discussed on several occasions.
Three Men on the Shore…who were once likely in a boat.
Jerome proves to be the King of Conversational Tangents, and he has a flair for exaggeration—it's often his extravagant descriptions of river-based anger and cursing that put me over the edge, and his ability to distract with side stories is impressive to witness. I know I could natter on about how stunning this book is, and I know I could threaten to firebomb you should you refuse to read the book, but I thought I'd leave you with a selection of text to tantalize you instead.
One of my favourite sections deals with J.'s aversion to visiting cemeteries and reading epitaphs on his holidays (a pursuit for which Harris has a definite penchant). In one of J.'s narrative offshoots, he discusses a time where, after stopping by a churchyard on a sunny morning ramble, he was accosted by the man in charge of minding the graves:
'I've come as soon as I could, sur' he replied. 'My missis never see you till just this minute. You follow me, sur.'
'Go away,' I replied; 'leave me before I get over the wall, and slay you.'
He seemed surprised.
'Don't you want to see the tombs?' he said.
'No,' I answered. 'I don't. I want to stop here, leaning up against this gritty old wall. Go away, and don't disturb me. I am chock full of beautiful and noble thoughts, and I want to stop like it, because it feels nice and good. Don't you come fooling about, making me mad, chivvying away all my better feelings with this silly tombstone nonsense of yours. Go away, and get somebody to bury you cheap, and I'll pay half the expense.' (71).
…And the scenario only gets more frantic and hilarious from then on out. Absolute gold. I thought Victorians were a stiff and stilted lot, but Jerome has proven me daft and wrong. In fact, I take back what I said before—all who do not read said book will have to be firebomed. I would apologize, except that it is the right thing to do.
Ideal for: Former deniers of Victorian literature; Fans of P.G. Wodehouse and other clever, silver-tongued British authors; Readers in need of a meandering, episodic jaunt (both literary and nautical).