Title: Three Men In A Boat (To Say Nothing Of The Dog)
Author: Jerome K. Jerome
Published: 2012 (originally 1889)
I had originally bought this book as a present for my boyfriend when I was in London last year. He loves sailing and boats so I thought this classic would be right up his street. He didn’t pick it up for a while though (yeah I know, bad move boy!), so I decided to read it myself. I was going to eventually because I really like the Penguin Essentials series, so in the month of July I opened its pages.
I finished it this month. I think that says it all, doesn’t it? Well, maybe not. There are quite a few books that take me a while to read, months sometimes, but they aren’t as big a disappointment as this book was. It started out great. I love ‘English’ humour and I enjoyed Jerome’s sense of humour too. The premise of the book is also hilarious: three men decide to go on a boat trip down the Thames because they are apparently in ‘desperate’ need of a vacation. They take their dog Montgomery with them. Of course the three men drive each other crazy in no time: they’re lazy, hypochondriac and quite ignorant and clumsy. A recipe for a fun read, no?
Such is life; and we are but as grass that is cut down, and put into the oven and baked.
No. It was not. Jerome was initially going to write a travel journal and decided it would be fun to fictionalise it. But it is confusing to be reading a paragraph that is apparently objective and straight out of a travel journal and then being ‘humoured’ with one of Jerome’s anecdotes or jokes. Perhaps it can be quite a nice combination, but in this instance the two story lines clashed every time. They do not intertwine, blurring their own genre’s borders, but remain two very different narrative threads. It might just be me, because the combination of geography lessons and folklore wasn’t my favorite part of Nils Holgersson either, but I just think it wasn’t very well carried out.
Slowly the golden memory of the dead sun fades from the hearts of the cold, sad clouds. Silent, like sorrowing children, the birds have ceased their song, and only the moorhen’s plaintive cry and the harsh croak of the corncrake stirs the awed hush around the couch of waters, where the dying day breathes out her last.
Nevertheless it was not all that bad and therefore a confusing reading experience. Like I said, I enjoy this particular humour, just not in this amount and with nothing else to compensate for. After 176 pages you’re quite done with the jokes about ex girlfriends, stupid jobs and ‘hilarious’ anecdotes. But I like the humour as such. Moreover, the book had a few beautiful lines – lines that will stay with me for a long time. While reading the book, I often wondered how this could be: the humour appealed to me but the jokes were tedious and the travel journal segments were annoying and unnecessary but some descriptions were absolutely stunning.
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 sombre throne, folds her black wings above the darkening world, and, from her phantom palace, lit by the pale stars, reigns in stillness
You see what I mean? How can you not love a description like this. This is so right up my street! And of course the following quote, which goes to well with the title …
Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need – a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing.
Who didn’t get all the Hobbit feelings? Right, this would be a great thing for Bilbo to say … I’ll just conclude with the last quote I really liked.
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.
Then Night, like some great loving mother, gently lays her hand upon our fevered head, and turns our little tear-stained faces up to hers, and smiles; and, though she does not speak, we know what she would say, and lay our hot flushed cheek against her bosom, and the pain is gone
See for yourself – I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this book, but if you’re interested in 19th century classics, it might still be worth the try.