Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome

I have book blogging to thank for the fact that I’ve finally read this wonderful classic. It’s not a book I would ever have thought of reading until I started to notice other bloggers giving it glowing reviews and decided I really had to read it for myself. I’m pleased to say that it lived up to my expectations – I found it an easy, entertaining read, not to mention a genuinely hilarious one! I can’t remember the last time I read such a funny book and I would recommend it to anyone who feels daunted by the thought of reading a Victorian classic.

The ‘three men’ are our narrator, J., and his two friends, George and Harris. When they decide they need a break, the three men (accompanied by Montmorency the dog), set off on a boat trip along the River Thames – and everything that can go wrong does go wrong!

What makes Three Men in a Boat so funny is that, despite the book being written such a long time ago, so much of it is still true of modern day life. The accuracy of the British weather forecast, for example, doesn’t seem to have improved at all since Victorian times!

I do think that, of all the silly, irritating tomfoolishness by which we are plagued, this “weather-forecast” fraud is about the most aggravating. It “forecasts” precisely what happened yesterday or the day before, and precisely the opposite of what is going to happen to-day.

Most people should be able to identify with at least a few of the disasters that J. and his friends recount. I’m sure anybody who has ever been camping will laugh at the descriptions of two people trying to put up a tent in the rain. And what about Uncle Podger hanging a picture on the wall? Does this scenario sound familiar?

“There!” he would say, in an injured tone, “now the nail’s gone.”

And we would all have to go down on our knees and grovel for it, while he would stand on the chair, and grunt, and want to know if he was to be kept there all the evening.

The nail would be found at last, but by that time he would have lost the hammer.

“Where’s the hammer? What did I do with the hammer? Great heavens! Seven of you, gaping round there, and you don’t know what I did with the hammer!”

Some of the funniest parts are when the three men relate to each other little anecdotes about things that happened to them in the past – my favourite was George getting up and going to work in the middle of the night because his watch had stopped and he thought it was morning. I also loved the story Harris told about the time he got lost in Hampton Court Maze.

During their journey up the Thames, we are given lots of historical and geographical facts about the places the three men pass in their boat; these sections read almost like a travel guide and I suspect they might have been of more interest to me if I lived near the Thames and was more familiar with the area. I also don’t have any interest at all in sailing, rowing or boats in general so a lot of the boating jokes went over my head – but I suppose I shouldn’t really complain about there being too much boating terminology in a book called Three Men in a Boat!

Whether you’ll enjoy this novel or not will depend on whether you can connect with Jerome K. Jerome’s sense of humour. If you can’t then you might be disappointed because the book doesn’t really have a plot, other than the outline I’ve given above – so if you do read it I hope you’ll be able to laugh at it as much as I did!

15 thoughts on “Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome

  1. Sue says:

    I read this sometime ago – I think it was something to do link ing Hardy’s Tess and the attitudes to the prostitute – and like you, unexpectedly, thoroughly enjoyed it. Also seen Rodney Bewes doing the one man show of the book which is hillarious (sorry if a bit off topic for a book blog!).

    • Helen says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed this book too, Sue. I’ve heard about the Rodney Bewes show – I haven’t seen it but can imagine it being hilarious!

  2. Aarti says:

    I read this story because of book blogging, too, and really really enjoyed it! I loved the weather forecast part- and so many others. I thought the introspective, very poetic parts describing the scenery were somewhat random, but all else was excellent!

  3. Annie says:

    Looks like I’m going to be someone else who read this because of blogging. It’s a disgrace, actually that I never have read it and something I should put right immediately.

    • Helen says:

      I think it was on my TBR for over a year before I finally got round to reading it. I wish I hadn’t waited so long – it was the funniest book I’ve read for a long time!

  4. Karen K. says:

    I love this book and I highly recommend the Naxos Audio version narrated by Martin Jarvis, which is just brilliant. He reminds me very much of Hugh Laurie, which is so appropriate since Three Men in a Boat is rather like if Bertie Wooster went boating with two equally stupid friends and a dog, but left Jeeves behind.

    I’ve never read the sequel, Three Men on the Bummel, but I recently acquired a copy of Diary of a Pilgrimage which looks very similar,

    • Helen says:

      I’m glad to hear the audio version is good. And after enjoying this book so much, I’m definitely interested in reading Three Men on the Bummel too!

  5. Marieke says:

    I just reviewed this recently and it was also thanks to other bloggers that I heard about the book. I loved the humourous style and the rambling approach. You can’t really go wrong with this book!

    • Helen says:

      I’ve discovered lots of great books through blogging that I wouldn’t otherwise have read. I read a lot of Victorian classics but for some reason the thought of this one had never appealed to me.

  6. Yorick says:

    I’ve read three men in a boat some time ago and i keep thinking about it. This has to do with the fact that i rarily find a funny book actually funny. The whole farce aspect of three men in a boat is written really well. Are there any other books (with this sense of humour) that you could recommend me?

  7. MaryR says:

    I didn’t know about this book at all–until I saw it on your #6degrees list–but it is definitely going on my TBR list. Thanks!

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