Three Men in a Boat is a comic novel and the first-person narrative of “J” and recounts the tale of a boating trip down the Thames with two friends, George and Harris…to say nothing of the dog Montmorency. I understand the book was originally intended to be a serious travel guide, and indeed it does include some genuine information about historical points along the route, but I got the distinct feeling that Jerome could not resist injecting his droll wit. It is a marvelous farce.
Pleasure boating on the Thames was all the rage, and the reader is quite aware that the three would-be boatmen – were not at all qualified – but rather chose the outing to be chic and sophisticated. They failed.
I was prepared to love this book, but to be honest, I was just a bit disappointed. I definitely prefer Jerome K. Jerome’s short stories or essays. Three Men in a Boat is funny, but not hilarious, enjoyable but not riveting.
A few excerpts to demonstrate Jerome’s signature prose dripping with sarcasm or oozing with satire.
When George is hanged, Harris will be the worst packer in this world
I don’t know why it should be, I am sure; but the sight of another man asleep in bed when I am up, maddens me.
People who have tried it, tell me that a clear conscience makes you very happy and contented; but a full stomach does the business quite as well, and is cheaper, and more easily obtained.
…and I yearn for the good old days, when you could go about and tell people what you thought of them with a hatchet and a bow and arrows.
It must have been worth while having a mere ordinary plague now and then in London to get rid of both the lawyers and the Parliament.
And a few excerpts to show the elegance of prose he can write with when he chooses.
From the dim woods on either bank, Night’s ghostly army, the grey shadows, creep out with noiseless tread to chase away the lingering rear-guard of the light, and pass, with noiseless unseen feet, above the waving river-grass, and through the sighing rushes; and Night, upon her somber throne, folds her black wings above the darkening world, and, from her phantom palace, lit by the pale stars, reigns in stillness.
It was a glorious night. The moon had sunk, and left the quiet earth alone with the stars. It seemed as if, in the silence and the hush, while we her children slept, they were talking with her, their sister – conversing of mighty mysteries in voices too vast and deep for childish human ears to catch the sound.
My Rating: 3 ½ of 5 stars
This novel satisfies – Back to the Classics Challenge 2018 – Category: a classic travel or journey narrative.