Sunday, 20 September 2009

Three Men In A Boat (Jerome K Jerome)

--The blurb--
"It would be unfair to say that any of the three men were hypochondriacs; it was simply that they suffered from a constant malaise, consisting of every symptom but housemaid's knee. The only cure for it was a revitalising trip in an open boat. Bearing frying pans, elusive toothbrushes, pies, lemonade and whisky, for medicinal purposes only, the three men and Montmorency the dog (whose ambition in life is to get in the way) embark on their hilarious adventures on the Thames. After considerable enjoyment and irritation - getting lost in the maze, arguing with some quarrelsome swans, falling in the river - the three men decide that being out of a boat seems a more inviting alternative. Despite being over a century old, its sparkling insights into human - and canine - nature ensure that Three Men In A Boat is as fresh and invigorating today as when it was first published."

--The review--
Younger readers (read: school age) often deride older texts, decrying them as being irrelevant, hard, and boring. However, fans of modern comedy, from the most cutting-edge to the slightly cheesier stuff, will find plenty to delight in while reading Three Men In A Boat: it contains everything from the cringeworthy comedy of the Chuckle Brothers, through to Bill Bailey-style digressions and general wordplay. While it is occasionally a bit middle-class for some people's tastes, this is easily ignored when readers are presented with Jerome's sharp observations about the real surrounding towns and villages of the Thames.

While the novel is a certainly a slice of local history, Jerome is not your usual tour guide: he pulls no punches when it comes to giving his opinions of the places through which the characters pass. Locals to the Thames area will certainly appreciate them even more. As well as containing his famous diatribe against my own home town, Maidenhead ("Maidenhead itself is too snobby to be pleasant...It is the town of showy hotels, patronized chiefly by dudes and ballet-girls. It is the witch's kitchen from which go the demons of the river [steam-launches]...the heroine of the three-volume novel always dines there when she goes out on the spree with somebody else's husband"), I also had a little giggle at Jerome's assessment of nearby Reading, which Jerome describes as, at Walton, "[while doing] its best to spoil and sully and make hideous as much of the river as it can reach, [it] is good-natured enough to keep its ugly face a good deal out of sight." Clearly Jerome and Betjeman were in cahoots when it came to slighting this part of the country ("come, friendly bombs, and fall on Slough...").

However, as well as indulging his bitchy side, Jerome is also lyrical (I refer you to the passage beginning "Sometimes, our pain is very deep and real", which begins on page 96 in the Penguin Popular Classics edition, and which will be easily findable via the free Gutenberg etext) and apt (his passage on the domination of our intellect by our digestive organs is highly accurate and British in the extreme, especially the part about tea). This is not to say that there are no weaknesses in the novel; the digressive style takes some time to get used to, and while there was the occasional lovely piece of description relating to the dog, I felt that Jerome could have made more of the animal character.

There are certainly a good many reasons why this is Jerome's best-known novel; however, it seems a shame that the exposure of his other work should be cut out at its expense. I would definitely be interested in reading more.

Other works by Jerome K Jerome
Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow (1886)
Second Thoughts of an Idle Fellow (1898)
Three Men on the Bummel (1900)
Paul Kelver (1902)
Tommy and Co (1904)
They and I (1909)
The Philosopher's Joke (1909)
All Roads Lead To Calvary (1919)
Anthony John (1923)

4 comments:

santiiiii said...

I just finished reading Three Men in a Boat, and writing a little review (in Spanish) in my blog.

I must say I feel a bit disappointed with the book. Don't get me wrong, it's a good little novel, and I've enjoyed reading it, but I didn't laugh as much as I thought I would.

I agree with you though that Jerome K. Jerome is a good writer, and it's a shame this book shadows the rest of his works.

If you are looking for English comedies I strongly recommend you Lucky Jim, by Kingsley Amis. You'll love it.

Bianca said...

Thanks for stopping by! I agree with you that it's not exactly rolling-in-the-aisles stuff.

Thanks also for the recommendation! I think my fiancé may have also read this, but I never have. Might be one for me to get onto...

heyimaghost said...

I'm currently reading this and highly enjoy it so far. It reminds me of The Pickwick Papers in it's style and humor, which, to me, is a good thing. I'm eager to read more by Jerome. I'm hoping to find a cheap copy of Paul Kelver, but I may have to shell out a bit more than I'd like to get my hands on it.

Bianca said...

Glad you are enjoying it. I have never read The Pickwick Papers so will have to give that a go :) I have also never read anything else by Jerome K Jerome so may check some other stuff out by him.