I ran across Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men In a Boat as a reference and a borrowed plot (or part of one) in Connie Willis’ To Say Nothing Of the Dog (which itself is a quote from Jerome’s book). I happened to run across a copy in one of my favorite used book stores and grabbed it.
Jerome K. Jerome was an English writer of the late nineteenth century who had considerable success as a novelist and playwright. If his other works are marked by the same wry, off-the-wall humor as this one, I can see why he was successful.
The story is quite simple. Three young men, George, Harris, and J., along with Montmorency, a fox terrier, decide to escape the ennui of their lives by rowing up the Thames. It will give them a couple of weeks’ break, help them get back in shape (especially George, who is quite hefty), and provide a little bit of adventure in their humdrum lives. Jerome, in his preface, swears that the story is true. It could be. It doesn’t really matter.
There isn’t really a lot to say about the story, except that given three friends who are more or less eccentric (to say nothing of the dog, who establishes his own distinct character early on) deciding to take off on a jaunt up the Thames sets the stage for a series of adventures that, were it undertaken by a group less eccentric and more competent, would be no story at all. The book does have a wonderful flavor of life in England in the late nineteenth century, reminiscent in some ways of Dorothy L. Sayers’ descriptions of the English countryside and the villages, although with a more acerbic cast.
This is possibly one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. Jerome’s observations on his fellow travelers, the dog, and the world and its ways are sometimes pungent, sometimes gentle, but always apt, and situations that in other hands would be fairly humdrum turn out to be hilarious. If you’ve read Willis’ book or are familiar with American humorists such as Robert Benchley, you have an idea of the kind of humor that’s here.
Run, do not walk, to someplace where you can find this book — grab a taxi or a train. Take a boat, if you have to.
(Tor Classics, 2001)