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13th August
2010
written by Steph

A cracking good read!

For years I’ve been hearing about how Three Men in a Boat is the funniest of books, a book that will truly tickle your funny bone. Some have even claimed this might be the funniest English book ever written. Such claims cause ambivalence within me, because I LOVE me some British humor, but I also get worried because I fear that when I finally get on the boat (as it were), I’ll find the item in question only kind of funny rather than a rip-roaring side-splitter. I mean, for all their stiff upper lips, those Brits do dry humor better than pretty much anyone in my book (Blackadder, anyone?), and we all know I fell head over heels for P.G. Wodehouse last year, all to say that any declarations of being the apex of humor are going to come under some pretty harsh scrutiny when I’m the one doing the judging.

Happily, I can report that Three Men is a very funny book, one that made me giggle quite a lot. I was almost immediately reminded of the cadence and flippant tone that characterizes P.G. Wodehouse’s writing, and the narrator in question could certainly give Bertie Wooster a run for his money when it comes to charming cluelessness. With his easy air of laissez faire and a bon mot on hand, J and his pals get into plenty of scrapes but always have the perfect words to sum of the experience with a smile.

The plot, such that there is one, revolves J and his two pals, Harris and George, setting out on a river journey from Kingston to Oxford along with J’s dog Montmorency (the most rascally scamp to grace literature! I loved him!). The novel consists of the various misadventures the lads have as they embark down the river, whether it be trying to sleep out in the boat, cook an Irish stew, or the difficulties in predicting the weather while on holiday. J’s insights are sometimes piercing but always hilarious, and his musings frequently bounce from events on the river to those in the past of which he’s reminded (such as the huge affair his uncle makes of hanging a painting). Generally speaking, these diversions are quite enjoyable, for this is a surely a book that proves the point that any trip is about the journey, not the final destination. Not all of the digressions were to my taste however, as there were frequent dalliances and fantasies that revolved around English history that I found rather dry and dull; moreover, these portions were written in a style quite unlike the rest of the novel, and so I often found them quite jarring to read for that reason alone.

I’m not sure that I have much more to say about Three Men other than that I enjoyed it greatly and it was a wonderful afternoon read when I was in the mood for something lighthearted and cheery. It was perhaps not as cohesive as a Jeeves & Wooster novel, but was very much in keeping with that bandying spirit and was great fun. Perhaps not the very funniest book I have ever read (where were the J Chichester Clams and the Stilton Cheeseworths?  Then again: Montmorency!), but still a very funny one indeed that is required reading for anyone in need of a belly laugh or a healthy dose of English humor! I have a copy of Jerome’s Three Men on the Bummel, and look forward to reading it in the future!

I leave you with one of my favourite lines from the novel, which kind of sums up the humor contained therein better than my own attempts can:

“But there, everything has its drawbacks, as the man said when his mother-in-law died, and they came down upon him for the funeral expenses.”

Also, please see Nymeth’s review and Alex’s review of this novel as they speak far more eloquently about its charm than I!

Rating: 4 out of 5

14 Comments

  1. 08/13/2010

    Oh, I love this book! It’s been a long time since I’ve read it, and after reading this review, I really want to read it again! Have you read To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis? It’s kind of a homage to this book and very good as well. I wonder what you would think about it. Glad you enjoyed this one!!

  2. 08/13/2010

    I agree about the joys of British humor. I love Connie Willis and her books, and had no idea To Say Nothing of the Dog was a homage to this one. I did have the bizarre experience of absolutely loving Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis the first time I read it, and laughing till I thought I would just bust a gut, and then rereading it a year or so ago and wondering why I ever thought it was so entertaining. It might be that the peculiar silliness of British humor hits you better at some stages of life than others. Or maybe it’s me! :–)

  3. 08/13/2010

    I really, really enjoyed this one, too. Totally changed my perception of those stuffy Victorians! I recently read Connie Willis’ To Say Nothing of the Dog, and I think it’s a fabulous salute to Jerome K Jerome!

  4. I really enjoyed this book too. I only live a few miles from the River Thames and so I know all the places mentioned in the book very well. I actually found the historical parts of the books the most interesting as they talked about places I know and love. It even made me look into local history as it mentioned a few things that don’t exist any more and I was wondering what had happened to them.

    I third the recommendation for Connie Willis’s book. I’m sure you’ll enjoy that too.

  5. 08/14/2010

    When I first heard of this book, it didn’t sound at all interesting. Later I realized it was a classic instead of modern, which for some reason made it much more appealing. I still probably wont’ get to it right away, but probably will one day.

  6. 08/14/2010

    @ zibilee: I hadn’t realized you had read this one! I have heard of Willis’s novel, but realized it was probably an homage to this one, so I decided I should read this one first! I haven’t read any Willis, but I’d really like to!
     
    @ rhapsody: I’m intrigued about your thoughts on Lucky Jim because I have it in my TBR stack (on my ereader) and am really looking forward to it! I hope I find it funny! And I hope I never lose my taste for British humor! ;)
     
    @ Aarti: I only think of Victorians as mildly stuffy, since I find Jane Austen wildly, uproariously funny… but I’m weird like that! ;) Very much looking forward to the Willis!
     
    @ Jackie: I could see how this novel would be even more fun for you given your knowledge of the areas it discusses… And as much as I love England, history has never been my thing, so I guess that was always a losing battlefront…
     
    @ Amanda: I hope you find it as funny as I did when you do get around to it! I think it is a classic for a reason!

  7. 08/14/2010

    I have not always “got” British humor. The Wodehouse books are excellent but that’s about it for me. May be I should give this one a try…I am a dog-lover after all :)

  8. 08/15/2010

    I’m glad you enjoyed that – its a gentle and relaxing read. It’s gentle humour rather than a “laugh out loud” funny. A nice review – thanks for sharing

  9. 08/15/2010

    @ Nishita: If you like Wodehouse, then I really think you will like this.. and the dog! He is AMAZING! Definitely steals every scene he’s in! :D
     
    @ Tom C: I actually did find this one “laugh out loud” funny… Tony kept prodding me to share the parts I found so funny because I kept disturbing him with my tremors of mirth!

  10. 08/16/2010

    Hooray – I’m so glad you did find it funny! :D On a side note, I absolutely must give Wodehouse a second try.

  11. 08/16/2010

    One of these days I’ll get round to reading the book. I do feel I know it very well already however, having heard adaptations on the radio, seen programmes by chaps copying the book including dogs and cheese, and I also live in a town on the river Thames, so I think it’s already partially osmosed into me by stealth! Glad you enjoyed it – there’s nothing like a chucklesome book sometimes.

  12. 08/17/2010

    @ Nymeth: You really must give Wodehouse a second try! I can’t remember which work of his you tried before, but I can’t imagine you not loving Jeeves & Wooster!
     
    @ Annabel: I can only imagine reading the book with full knowledge of the areas Jerome describes would really heighten the reading experience, even if those bits of England have likely changed a good deal since this book was penned. I could see this being converted quite successfully for radio and the like! I’d love to have an audio recording of the book for long car rides, though I’d fear I’d run off the road from laughter!

  13. 08/18/2010

    I’ve been wanting to get into Wodehouse ever since Flavia de Luce kept referencing it in those Alan Bradley mysteries. Anything Flavia likes, I must like.

  14. 08/19/2010

    @ Kari: I still have yet to read the Alan Bradley mysteries! I love a good mystery and his sound right up my alley, and yet I’ve just not managed it yet! Hopefully soon! And you really should read Wodehouse, provided you like zany British humor!

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