Friday, August 24, 2012

Three Men in a Boat

Title: Three Men in a Boat
Author: Jerome K. Jerome
Published: 1889
Genre: Classic fiction

Recommendation: For those whose ironic sense of humor is their primary sense.
Rating: 7.5/10

Summary: A humorous tale of three men and a dog travelling by boat on Thames between Kingston and Oxford.

Reactions: I had a goal of reading a classic novel published prior to 1900 this year and Three Men in a Boat ended up being the book chosen for this purpose. It's one of those books that I've heard mentioned by my friends as well as alluded to in To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis which peaked my curiosity. In addition, it's fairly short -- an uncommon trait in the books of the period -- and thus more accessible.

I downloaded a copy for free from Amazon and read it on my Kindle. Unfortunately the typesetting in the book wasn't great -- the sections inside chapters were merged into the opening sentences, but other than that the reading process was quite smooth. I enjoyed the old-fashioned chapter previews and the entertaining narration of the main protagonist. To give you an idea of the book's style, here's an excerpt:
So George determined to postpone study of the banjo until he reached home. But he did not get much opportunity even there. Mrs. P. used to come up and say she was very sorry -- for herself, she liked to hear him -- but the lady upstairs was in a very delicate state, and the doctor was afraid it might injure the child.
There are a number of ironic passages where the main protagonist essentially ridicules himself when speaking of other people and I enjoyed this type of story-telling.

The biggest issue for me with this book was a lack of any sort of plot. The journey begins and amusing stories are told along the way, but nothing particular really happens throughout their trip. After I finished the novel, I found out through Wikipedia that it was originally written as a serious travel guide -- it's just the humorous passages took over the book. This really explains a lot, for the part of the book I didn't really enjoy were what I considered "asides" on the history of England as associated with a particular location they were passing at the moment. That and the lack of a plot made the book a bit dull in certain points -- but it's certainly the funniest travel guide I have read to date.

Overall it's a worthy read for those who aren't looking for action, but rather enjoy exposition and situational comedy in the books. As for me, I feel that I've filled in a void in my classical reading education.


  1. Ya know... I never really thought about the whole 'no plot' thing...

    But your right, the book was basically, 'Lets go down the river,' and nothing more. I don't know why, but that didn't bother me, but since you've brought it up I'd have to say I don't consider it a novel in the traditional sense.

    It took me a moment to really get the chapter previews but I loved them by the book's end. (Oddly enough, I'm reading another book that does the same thing.)

    Harris and the banjo and Harris singing comic songs was the highlight for me.

  2. You can extand your knowledge of classical reading, if you read other novels by Jerome K. Jerome. They are also full of humor and are very entertaining!