Three Men In A Boat by Jerome K. Jerome (1889) 179 p.

Three Men In A Boat is a humourous novel from the 1880s detailing the trip that three young, wealthy, Wooster-style gadabouts take from London to Oxford, up the Thames by rowing skiff. The novel is actually based on Jerome’s honeymoon, I believe, with his wife replaced by two friends to make the novel more amusing. It’s a perennial classic which has never been out of print, and it’s easy to see why. Jerome has a surprisingly modern writing style, and the book feels undated to the point where the appearance of horse-drawn carts feels anachronous. It also never stopped feeling odd when Jerome would compare the peacefulness of bygone eras with the hustling, bustling modern world of “the 19th century.”

It reminded me, inevitably, of the shaggy dog story travelogues of Mark Twain, though Jerome is far more readable than Twain. They follow the same sort of style – firmly tongue-in-cheek, constantly diverted by anecdotes, and with the strong sense that neither man would let the truth get in the way of a good story (although Jerome at least classified his as fiction). It’s not without its flaws – certainly some of the amusing stories can become long-winded and unfunny, as was the style at the time, and the humour is curiously interspersed with patches of sentimental writing in which Jerome genuinely appreciates the beauty of the Thames. Nonetheless, Three Men In A Boat is a short and pleasant novel which remains one of the more accessible pieces of writing from the 19th century.

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