Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Three Men in a Boat

It cannot have escaped your notice that I have not been working all these holidays and that I went on a short holiday recently. Or, you know, maybe it can, I know I'm not the most important thing in your life or anything. Whatever your reason for reading my musings (or not, you cruel people that read synopses on social media and then don't hit the link) I'm sure you would like to know about one of the books I have managed to read. Because I don't get to read many books on account of being lazy and clumsy (I stabbed myself with a can lid today). Today, I shall be reviewing Three Men in a Boat because I read it.

Part of me wants to try writing a review in the style of Jerome K. Jerome, but I lack the ability to do his style justice. Instead, I shall probably just review it as I saw it and let you make the discoveries for yourself, because the discoveries are definitely worth it.

Firstly, this was written in the nineteenth century, which usually puts people off, so I'll get that bit out of the way. There's no need for this to put you off, however, as it is engaging and written in a conversational style. The conceit is a trip up the Thames for three gentlemen who have much leisure time (so much more than most people nowadays come to think of it) and wish to boat it. There is much discussion of the minutiae of life in the late nineteenth century and it is rather comforting to know that very little has changed. To my shame, I heard most of the R4 adaptation before reading the book. It is a mark of the book's quality that it was not only not ruined by this but actually enhanced. In the end, the book is just a series of anecdotes and amusing observations strung together by the loosest of narratives. And, you know what, it doesn't matter.

I was struck by the similarities between the style in this book and the stand-up routines of people like Dylan Moran and Eddie Izzard - there was something gleeful, playful and unabashed in the way it was put together and the subjects it covered. Brick jokes (as in the punchline is buried in the opening and then only returned to much later) abound - such as one about steamships that is very well done and one about Henry VIII that is even more effective and had me laughing out loud. It got a laugh from Anna too, who is a scholar of the Tudor period, so I am assuming it's not just my odd sense of humour that caused the hilarity.

It flows well, there is a poetry to it and some rather clever little twists that sound as though they are scripts for modern stand-up. I found the sort of wordplay I expect from Monty Python and the kind of insanity that characterised The Goon Show within these pages. In other words, it is somewhat anarchic but written in the language of a time that we do not normally see as being so. It was, in a word, funny. And that's a rarity. There was no gimmick and, unlike my review, you knew that everything in it had been carefully crafted. Of course, he seems to have been writing to a deadline because toward the end of the book things take a remarkably perfunctory turn - it's almost like he wasn't sure how to end it or he had to really rush it. This is a shame, the rest of the book is very well done, but, again, a mark of the quality of the tome is that this is but a small fault or blemish and does not ruin the overall enjoyment.

I tend not to read books more than once because I have an irritating memory. I am useless at most things but plot and characterisation from a book are so vivid if I attempt to read a second time that I tend not to bother. This, however, will stand a second reading because it is like watching a stand-up DVD: you know the jokes but the pleasure of hearing them again means they remain funny. My father, who got me this book for a birthday (around 2010?), reads this every year. I can see why. I doubt I shall follow him entirely in reading it in sunshine, for example, but I do rather suspect that I shall be reading it pretty often if irregularly.

Why yes, I can recommend this to you. Now, go and get a copy and see that I am not wrong!


  1. My wife read this several years ago, loved it and thought it was very funny. It has been on my to read list ever since, really must read it. It has the advantage of being a short much so not a big commitment to read, unlike many classics which are dense and doorstopper-like! Anyone who wants to read, you can get it free on Kindle (and other ebook formats no doubt).

    1. I was pleasantly surprised in that it took me a week - and I only read for about an hour maximum a day (and that was interrupted). At full tilt I could devour this in a day or two, easily.

      Get reading it! You'd be through it in a couple of train journeys, tops!