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Cannonball Read IV: Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome

By ElCicco | Books | February 22, 2012 |

By ElCicco | Books | February 22, 2012 |

I had never heard of this novel before reading a review of it recently on NPR’s “You Must Read This” blog. Apparently, it’s known ‘round the world and was enormously popular when published in 1889. The plot is simple: three friends decide to take a two-week vacation together, boating on the Thames. What we learn is that the problems and annoyances that the travelers encounter are the same today as they were 100+ years ago, and can be the source of great amusement: deciding what to pack and then trying to pack it all, road rage and dealing with idiot drivers, arguments over who is doing the most work, managing the cooking and washing, and dealing with bad weather and the foul moods that ensue. Jerome K. Jerome was a humorist, and if you like P.G. Wodehouse or National Lampoon-style vacation movies, Three Men in a Boat is for you.

This is a book that is irresistibly quotable. Among my favorites:

  • On finding “no-trespassing” signs along the river, right where someone wants to stop and enjoy a picnic lunch: “The sight of those notice-boards rouses every evil instinct in my nature. I feel I want to tear each one down, and hammer it over the head of the man who put it up….”
  • On river rage: “When another boat gets in my way, I feel I want to take an oar and kill all the people in it.”
  • When the three men ram into a fishing boat full of old men: “…they cursed us — not with a common cursory curse, but with long, carefully-thought-out, comprehensive curses, that embraced the whole of our career, and went away into the distant future, and included all our relatives, and covered everything with us — good, substantial curses.”
  • On cleaning clothes while camping: “She said it had not been like washing, it had been more in the nature of excavating.”
  • And the description of a quaint, picturesque cottage: “once-upon-a-timeyfied.”

While there is much in this story to make one smile and chuckle, the stories of traveling by train with cheese and of trying to open a tin of pineapple without benefit of a can opener are laugh-out-loud funny.

Three Men in a Boat is a great piece of brain candy. If you need a break and a laugh, this is an excellent choice.

This review is part of Cannonball Read IV. Read all about it, and find more of ElCicco’s reviews on the group blog.

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