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Three Men in a Boat (thoughts)

October 19, 2010

I’d heard good things about Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat in a few places, but it was Rebecca’s review of an audio version that made me sit up and pay attention. After all, I was looking at a fifteen hour drive, and my ideal road trip audiobook is both funny and well-written (I feel like I could do a whole post on how to choose the perfect book for your cross-country drive, since I’ve done so many of them over the years!), and I’ve lately come to realise how much I love the classics in audio form. So I was delighted when my library had an e-copy available for download that (legally) allowed me to burn it to CD. Then it was just a matter of finding the patience to wait until October! ;)

As soon as I got on the interstate, I popped in the first disc and settled back. It turned out to be the perfect choice for a trip, since the narrator’s experiences mirrored (to some extent) my own. It was especially fun to hear the packing discussion while sitting in my own packed-to-the-gills car. ;) But really, Jerome is such a marvelous writer, I think this would be a perfect book for just about any time! I laughed until I had tears in my eyes almost right off the bat, when the narrator goes into a rambling tangent about health and hypochondria and his readings at the British Museum’s library. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t always get along that well with satire, but this was pitch perfect. Plus, amidst the overblown comedic episodes and ridiculous attitudes of the friends (and the dog! OMG, the story of him and the big cat also made me laugh until I cried!), there were passages of genuine thoughtfulness and loveliness. The book’s a patchwork, really, of minute descriptions and advice of the various stretches of the Thames, hilarious anecdotes, and moments of real, earnest reflection. I’m not going to lie; the first time a more flowery passage came along, I was a bit confused about whether to take it seriously. But while they don’t exactly ‘flow’ with the rest of the book, I came to enjoy them anyway, and they’re not nearly as odd as, say, the ones in Cold Comfort Farm. The following passage resonated especially well with me:

Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need – a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing.

I found myself wishing I could get to know Jerome in real life, and I imagine he’d be great fun at a dinner party. While Three Men in a Boat is Victorian, it’s quite late Victorian and definitely reminded me of some of the fin-de-siecle literature I’ve read, particularly Maupassant’s story “Mouche.” It also had that same kind of romping, joie-de-vivre I associate with Colette, although without the naughtier bits. ;) And as Rebecca mentioned in her review, there are definitely shades of Wodehouse! Although, I must say I think this had more depth than the Jeeves and Wooster stories I’ve read.

At the end of the day, I was quite sad the reach the end of the book, and isn’t that the best praise a reader can give? In fact, the only thing that assuaged my sadness was my discovery that I could download Three Men in a Bummel! I promptly put myself on the waiting list and got my hands on it this morning, just in time for some painting entertainment (I’m almost through Galileo’s Daughter, which is a rare foray for me into audio nonfiction).

One final note: I had a different narrator than the one Rebecca listened to, and while I haven’t compared the two, I can give Ian Carmichael a wholehearted thumbs up. He had just the right tone and kept the narration at a steady volume throughout (one of my pet peeves in audiobooks, especially on a roadtrip, is when the narrator goes from whispering to shouting in order to better convey the dialogue, while I frantically twirl my volume knob up and down).

51 Comments leave one →
  1. October 19, 2010 4:58 am

    Rebecca’s review made me put this on my wish list on BookMooch. I still haven’t acquired a copy, but one of these days. Your review made me just want to read it more. It sounds hilarious and fun.

  2. October 19, 2010 5:11 am

    I was intrigued by this book after reading Nymeth’s review of it earlier in the year. It sounds like a definite one to read.

    • November 6, 2010 10:44 am

      It’s great fun! Pretty short too. :)

  3. October 19, 2010 5:19 am

    I’m so glad you gave this such a good review. I just bought this to read, but haven’t had a chance yet. Now I can’t wait.

  4. Karen permalink
    October 19, 2010 6:01 am

    This is one of our whole family’s favourite books, right down to the ten year old. The line that still makes me laugh out loud every time, “When George is hanged, Harris will be the worst packer on the world” can be changed to fit so many family situations!
    Although we have the Martin Jarvis version too, my favourite (tho sadly abridged) narrator of this story is Hugh Laurie in Bertie Wooster rather than House mode.
    The passage you quoted has been turned into a fab poster:

    • November 6, 2010 10:45 am

      That line is great! And that’s so lovely your whole family enjoys it. :D I’m sad to hear that the Hugh Laurie version is abridged…otherwise I’d love to hear Bertie telling the tale! ;)

      That poster is gorgeous: thanks for the link!

  5. October 19, 2010 7:18 am

    I can’t remember where I read the first review of this book, but it sounds like one to add to my wish list. Since I don’t plan on taking any long road trips any time soon, I might stick with the print version.

    • November 6, 2010 10:45 am

      I think it’d be just as fun in print. :)

  6. Nadia permalink
    October 19, 2010 7:39 am

    I’ve only ever heard of this book in reference to books you must read before you die, but I’d never actually read a review of it until yours. And, WOW!, what a review! You have really captured my attention with your glowing review of this book that is now on my list of books to buy ASAP. It sounds like a right treat and I can’t wait to get my hands on it. Thanks!

  7. October 19, 2010 7:57 am

    Oh this would definitely be a wonderful road trip book! I read it earlier this year when I was in the doldrums and it was just the ticket to perk me up again. I look forward to reading Three Men in a Bummel at some point in the future!

    • November 6, 2010 10:46 am

      Definitely a depression-busting book! And one I can see rereading whenever I need a pick me up. :)

  8. October 19, 2010 8:02 am

    I’ve been hearing reference to this one a lot listening to Connie Willis’ To Say Nothing of the Dog–I’m sure I would’ve gotten more of the jokes in Willis’ book if I’d read this first. The audio is keeping me laughing, though, and I’ll have to check out this one soon! Thanks!

    • November 6, 2010 10:46 am

      Sometimes it’s fun to read things out of order too. :) I’m glad the Willis book is still funny for you!

  9. October 19, 2010 8:21 am

    I’ve also recently listen to this in audiobook and also found it charming. Favorite story: the smelly cheese :)

    • November 6, 2010 10:47 am

      OMG, the smelly cheese part had me crying with laughter. Especially the way the wife talked about getting rid of it.

  10. October 19, 2010 9:17 am

    Both you and Rebecca make this sound utterly delightful. And I’d love to see your suggestions on choosing cross-country-appropriate audiobooks. :-)

    • November 6, 2010 10:48 am

      I shall work on getting a list together. :)

  11. October 19, 2010 11:45 am

    I loved this book … and it’s definitely the kind of book you can re-read!

    • November 6, 2010 10:48 am

      Yep: I’m scouring my thrift stores to see if I can get my hands on a copy!

  12. October 19, 2010 1:05 pm

    So glad you found and enjoyed this one! I agree, it is hilarious and so entertainingly Victorian. Do read Connie Willis’ To Say Nothing of the Dog — it is even better once you know this book, and Peter Wimsey & Harriet Vane even make a cameo in Willis’ book ;)

    • November 6, 2010 10:50 am

      Oh! That cameo sounds quite tempting, although my first experience with Willis didn’t go all that well…

  13. October 19, 2010 1:07 pm

    This has long been one of my husband’s favorites, and I never got very interested in it, but we love to listen to audiobooks as a family, so now that I know that two audios (at least) exist, I’ll be looking for it before our next road trip.

    • November 6, 2010 10:50 am

      Definitely think this would be a good family-friendly road trip choice! :D

  14. October 19, 2010 3:47 pm

    I’ve read the book a few times now and it still makes me laugh. I don’t think On the Bummel is quite as good but it’s still very funny. I can imagine that Ian Carmichael would be very good.

    • November 6, 2010 10:52 am

      I’ve started On the Bummel, and I agree I’m not laughed as loudly but definitely still enjoying it. It’s got a different narrator, though, and I rather miss Carmichael!

  15. October 19, 2010 5:50 pm

    I’m glad to read a review of this! My boyfriend randomly bought it for my birthday last year(and it has both books in one volume) but I’ve been afraid to start it not knowing what to expect. I’ll feel a little easier going in now that I know it’s quite hilarious!

    • November 6, 2010 10:52 am

      lol @ random books for presents: I’ve definitely been there! But it sounds like the boyfriend has good taste. ;)

  16. October 19, 2010 6:13 pm

    We read this for book group and it was a lot of fun…I would definitely reread via the audiobook…Hugh Laurie’s version, because that’s the way I roll.

    • November 6, 2010 10:53 am

      But why did they abridge the Laurie version?! That’s just evil!

  17. Ashley permalink
    October 20, 2010 3:29 am

    It sounds like you really loved it! I read it last year and thought it was fun, but now I sort of want to try listening to it on audiobook. BTW, the reason I read it was because I had just read and loved To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis, which is loosely based upon/reacting to Three Men In A Boat. If I’m remembering correctly you’re not a fan of scifi or of Connie Willis, but it might be fun to give To Say Nothing of the Dog a shot; it’s funny, and there are a fair amount of ‘in jokes’ that you would get if you read Three Men In A Boat.

    • November 6, 2010 10:55 am

      I wonder if the audio version made it even funnier? My one experience with Willis was The Doomsday Book; I’m usually a big fan of time travel stories and the middle ages, but that one just drove me insane for some reason…I ended up abandoning it halfway through. But, I do try to give authors a second chance! So I’ll give To Say Nothing of the Dog a go one of these days. :)

  18. October 20, 2010 6:57 am

    I am so glad you enjoyed it! I imagine I would have loved it even more if I hadn’t listened in 10 min increments which made me have to find my footing each time.

    And on my audio version whenever the chapter began or ended, there would be music in the background. So come those flowery parts, there was really cheesy music too. It was great. And then after a certain chapter there was banjo music. It was so funny. That added to the humor too! And yes, while it was Victorian, it felt completely different from any thing else Victorian I’ve read!

    • November 6, 2010 10:56 am

      LOL @ the musical interludes! I imagine it’d be disorienting to read in 10 minute bits, since the stories are so nested!

  19. October 20, 2010 12:55 pm

    One of my all-time favorites. I’ve read it many times and still laugh until the tears stream down my cheeks. That opening scene in the British Library is priceless (and what absolutely won me over the first time I read the book — about twenty years ago now). Glad to hear you so enjoyed it. It would be a great companion for a long drive (although, one risks an accident when laughing so hard :-)!).

    • November 6, 2010 10:57 am

      It’s a good thing west Texas has very straight roads! ;) I’m glad to hear it’s just as funny on rereads.

  20. October 20, 2010 1:25 pm

    I love how Connie Willis uses the three men and their boat in her time-travelling novel To Say Nothing of the Dog. I’ve wanted to take a look at The Three Men and a Boat ever since I read To Say Nothingof the Dog in August.


    • November 6, 2010 10:57 am

      It sounds like I really must give Willis another go!

  21. October 20, 2010 8:46 pm

    Lol I am glad you too liked Three Men in a Boat :) I enjoyed reading it myself… And I love the quote you have posted from the book. If only the world followed it….

    • November 6, 2010 10:58 am

      Yep: it’d be lovely if everyone had just enough to be content. :) (Of course…how many books does one need to be content? hehe)

  22. October 23, 2010 12:40 pm

    Glad to know that you enjoyed ‘Three Men in a Boat’, Eva! It is one of my favourite books and Jerome K. Jerome is one of my favourite writers. I rate him even highter than P.G.Wodehouse, but unfortunately, Jerome hasn’t written many books. I still remember the scene in the book, where Uncle Podger hangs a picture :) And when they search for the butter while packing :) Hope you enjoy ‘Three Men in a Bummel’. I loved that too. Jerome has also written a humorous essay collection called ‘Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow’.

    • November 6, 2010 10:59 am

      I didn’t know he was one of your favourites! I hope I can give his essays a go too. :) And OMG, Uncle Podger and his nails and hammer reminded me of some men in my life. ;)

  23. Debbie M permalink
    October 23, 2010 3:30 pm

    This is one of my all time favourite books, good for reading when you have had a bad day at work. Too many good bits to pick a favourite. I have read it over and over, and probably have annoyed various people by insisting on giving it to them as a gift or pressing it upon them as a must read.

    • November 6, 2010 11:01 am

      It’s definitely going to be one of my go-to gift books now!

  24. bethfishreads permalink
    October 29, 2010 10:04 am

    I read this one instead of listened. It was one of my early blog reviews! The book was fun and silly, but I got a little weary of the slap stick after a while.

    • November 6, 2010 11:02 am

      I think I was just in the mood for slapstick…otherwise I can see it becoming a bit annoying.

  25. November 6, 2010 6:14 pm

    Just found a book by Jerome K Jerome — My Life & Times — that is fascinating. Almost as hilarious as 3 Men & he talks about how he came to write that book. Very, very gossipy & entertaining.


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