Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome

three men in a boatHappy birthday, JKJ!

😆 😆 😆 😆 😆

I was going to continue with the Sherlock Holmes theme today but a tweet from one of my favourite blogs Interesting Literature has just alerted me to the fact that today is Jerome K Jerome’s birthday; so this seems like a good moment to review the funniest book ever written…

To journey up the River Thames in the company of J, George, Harris and, of course, Montmorency the fox-terrier is as good as having a holiday yourself.

Uncle Podger...
Uncle Podger…

From J. showing the others how to pack a trunk, through Uncle Podger and the picture-hanging episode, stopping off for a warm whisky and water in a little pub Harris just happens to know, then past George and the terrifying pineapple can, averting our eyes from Montmorency’s embarrassment over the incident with the kettle, and on to the fishermen’s tales, every step on the journey is more joyous than the last. And I haven’t even mentioned the musical interludes – Montmorency’s accompaniment to George’s banjo playing, the sad tale of the bagpipe student, the affair of the German comic song…

Montmorency and the kettle
Montmorency and the kettle…

But, while I do think it’s the funniest book ever written, there’s more to it than that. Written as a travelogue, Jerome tells us lots of interesting historical snippets about the little towns and hamlets along the Thames. And since the book was published in 1889 we get a second historical view of Jerome’s own time – a view for once not of the upper-classes or of the poor, but of the ordinary working people in the middle and how they enjoyed their leisure time. One of the things that always surprises me about the book is that the interactions between the three men is so little different to what it would be today, giving the stories a timeless quality.
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Jerome K Jerome
Jerome K Jerome

As well as the humour, Jerome gives poetic descriptions of nature in all its glory and sometimes drifts off into historical imaginings. I know some people find these passages overly sentimental but I love them. They seem quintessentially Victorian to me and they are beautifully written, even when at their most over-blown. The book inspired me to travel up the Thames myself (in a car!) and visit some of the little places that still retain their individuality today despite many of them having been absorbed into the London sprawl.

If you’ve never read this book, give it a try. If you’ve read it before, treat yourself and read it again. And if you think you know of a funnier book, leave a comment – I always welcome tips!

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

9 thoughts on “Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome

  1. One of my all-time favourite books – I can also recommend the sequel Three Men on the Bummel, which sees them on a tour of Germany.

    Also, I read Erskine Childers’ The Riddle of the Sands recently and the first chapter or two were clearly influenced by Jerome – a very similar sense of humour came through.

    • Oh, for some reason I’d always assumed Erskine Childers was deadly serious. Hmm..I feel I may have to investigate that one now…

      I liked the Bummel too, but not quite as much as the Boat. This is my comfort reading, guaranteed to banish any amount of gloom. 🙂

  2. One of my favourite reads as well. It’s astounding how well the humour holds up all these years later. And you’re spot on about those serious passages adding depth. I think that mixture is what makes the book hold together so well.

    • Me too. But when I originally reviewed this on Amazon and was discussing it with other reviewers – all keen readers – I was surprised at how many people felt the serious bits spoiled it. And yet for me, the drowning, the ‘throw the lumber, overboard’ section and the musings on the signing of the Magna Carta are just as important as the anecdotes.

  3. Do I take it that you haven’t read “The Riddle of the Sands”?! I have obviously failed in my duty to pass on good books – an all time favourite.

    • Is it? Then I really will have to add it to my list. A list that currently has 63 books on it – and that’s just the ‘must reads’. I’ve lost count on the ‘would like to read’ list…

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