Have you ever struggled to put up a tent (or perhaps assemble a piece of IKEA furniture)? Have you ever packed a suitcase only to wonder if you really have put in a toothbrush and been forced to take everything out so as to check? Have you ever had a guide desperate to show you something you don’t actually want to see? And have you googled a list of medical symptoms only to discover you are afflicted with many deadly diseases (in fact, discover you have almost all of them except Housemaid’s Knee)? If so, then Three Men in a Boat is the book for you.
Jerome K. Jerome struggled all his life to live up to his literary hero, Charles Dickens, and never succeeded. Yet he wrote one of the funniest and best-loved books in the English language. Anyone who travels along the Thames in a boat should find it hard not to think of him and his wonderful novel that spawned a mini tourist industry on that great river.
“What readers ask nowadays in a book is that it should improve, instruct and elevate. This book wouldn’t elevate a cow. I cannot conscientiously recommend it for any useful purposes whatever. All I can suggest is that when you get tired of reading “the best hundred books,” you may take this for half an hour. It will be a change.” – Jerome K. Jerome
Jerome had always loved boating, and had spent wonderful afternoons on the Thames “messing about in boats”. He set out to write a serious book that would be a useful guide to the Thames, but soon humour took over.
The book appeared in 1889 and the first edition had sixty illustrations by A. Frederics. It has never been out of print; it has been translated into every major language in the world (and even into Pitman’s Shorthand); it has delighted generations of readers. The Guardian ranked Three Men in a Boat at number 25 in its ‘100 Best Novels of all Time’ list in 2014, while The Telegraph included it in its ’15 Funniest Books Ever Written’ list.
I hope you enjoy this book as much as I do – that you revel in its comedy, sigh over its hopeless young men, picture that wonderful river scenery that conjures up so much English history, laugh over its eccentricities, and of course never forget that dog, one of the best dogs in literature.
Come with me on a journey along the Thames with J, George, Harris and Montmorency as we read one of the funniest and best-loved books in the English language, Three Men in a Boat. Will you find a favourite episode in the novel, or any serious statements, and what do you think of the film versions? Discuss it with your book group or even with me by leaving a comment below.
Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
The ‘Three Men in a Boat’ Companion by Stephen Lambe
Below the Fairy City: A Life of Jerome K. Jerome by Carolyn W. de la L. Oulton
My Life and Times: The Autobiography of Jerome K. Jerome Audio CD by adapted and read by Brian Wright
Swing, Swing Together by Peter Lovesey