Thursday, September 24, 2015

Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)

Title:  Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)
Author:  Jerome K. Jerome
Publication Information:  J. W. Arrowsmith (original). 1889 (original). 268 pages.
ISBN:  0765341611 / 978-0765341617

Book Source:  I read this book for a book club my friend just asked me to join.

Opening Sentence:  "There were four of us - George, and William Samuel Harris, and myself, and Montmorency."

Favorite Quote:  "It seems to be the rule of this world. each person has what he doesn't want, and other people have what he does want ... It does not do well to dwell on these things; it makes one so sad."

George, Harris, and J (the narrator) are the three men. Montmorency is the dog. It took me a while to get that straight; so, I want to make that clear going in. Montmorency is the dog.

Three friends take a boat trip down the Thames River as a vacation. Along the way, the run into various escapades, and the narrator goes off on a variety of tangents and stories - somewhat unrelated, somewhat random, but always entertaining. The tangents and stories describe a little bit of everything from the business life in London, the imagined medical ailments of the three friends, the role and view of women in society, to the pompous nature of the narrator.

The preface of the book states "Its pages form the record of events that really happened. All that has been done is to colour them..." Indeed, three friends did exist. J, the author Jerome K Jerome, tried his hand at many careers including the railroad and the theater. George Wingrave was a bank clerk, who went on to become a leader at Barclay Bank. Carl Hentschel, known in the book as Harris, went on to establish a London printing house. The three were friends, and they did travel together, including taking trips up and down the Thames.

The route down (or up?) the Thames that the men took exists. Many, if not all, the places referenced in the book still exist. You could, if you wanted, recreate this trip even today. According to Jerome K Jerome's biography, a trip down the Thames was also the choice for his honeymoon trip in 1888, shortly before this book was written and published.

Although the setting and the characters could not be any more different, the book in many ways reminds me of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Both books are about nothing and everything. Both have a set of oddball characters going from situation to situation. Both are over-the-top absurd and laugh out loud funny at times. Underlying both is a hint of seriousness and commentary about society.

Like The Hitchhiker's Guide, this book is fascinating in its longevity and its variations. Today, over 125 years after its initial publication, I find myself laughing over the characters and situations. Many people, it appears, agree with me. This book has its loyal following:

  • A Jerome K Jerome Society exists.
  • Many audiobook versions of the book have been released over the years with different narrators.
  • The book has been the basis of several movies and TV series.
  • Artwork has been created to commemorate the book and the characters.
  • Other books have referenced this one.

So, is the rest of it real or not? Is this a travelogue or a fiction set loosely in reality? Truly, it does not really matter. What does matter is that the author has created a laugh out loud story with its fair share of commentary on the time and the place of its setting.

"We had come out for a fortnight's enjoyment on the river, and a fortnight's enjoyment on the river we meant to have. If it killed us!" I am not sure they had their fortnight of enjoyment; I know I enjoyed the hours I spent laughing along.

Book Club Note:  Out of the members present, I was the one who enjoyed the book the most. Most of the others found the book a little long and the stories a little too tangentially related. Those who have read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy did agree with the comparison between the two books.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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