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Jerome K. Jerome

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Title: Three Men in a Boat
Author: Jerome K. Jerome
Year: 1889

Great admiration for a novel I have not read yet naturally makes me interested, especially when the admirer is an author I think highly of. The title of To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis comes from the subtitle of Three Men in a Boat, the focus of this review. The two books have very little in common, except that the setting is the same and the fact that the three men in Jerome K. Jerome’s novel  appear briefly in To Say Nothing of the Dog. So, even though it is perhaps a bit perplexing why Connie Willis chose to take her title from this 19th century book, I am glad she did, since it resulted in the discovery of a great novel.

Much of the story is revealed in the title: This is simply a book about three men who, for various reasons, decide to go boating on the Thames. Of course, they encounter many oddities on the way, but it the anecdotes told in connection with these events that make this a great read. The author is perhaps the best teller of anecdotes I have ever encountered, because not only are many of his musings entertaining, but they lucidly and accurately portray human nature in an effective and simplistic way. Since I read this novel purely for enjoyment, I did not take notes, which means that I have had to find an example afterwards. It is far from the best, but it shows the style of the narration used throughout the book. The following quote is from page 142 in my Penguin Popular Classics edition:

It seemed we had moored close to a swan’s nest, and, soon after George and I had gone, the female swan came back, and kicked up a row about it.Harris had chivied her off, and she had gone away, and fetched up her old man. Harris said he had had quite a fight with these two swans; but courage and skill had prevailed in the end, and he had defeated them.

Half-an-hour afterwards they returned with eighteen other swans! It must have been a fearful battle, so far as we could understand Harris’s account of it. The swans had tried to drag him and Montmorency out of the boat and drown them; and he had defended himself like a hero for four hours, and had killed the lot, and they had all paddled away to die.

Although the book felt rather slow in the beginning, it soon gained momentum, and once it had started moving, there was no stopping it. Even though there are passages I do not care much for (about the landscape and towns close to the river) the overall impression is very good indeed. Since the book is also fairly short, I see no reason whatsoever not to recommend this book to everyone; it is not difficult to understand why it has become a classic. There seems to be a sequel, Three Men on the Bummel, and right now I feel that another two hundred pages or so of these kinds of anecdotes would be a good idea.