Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome (narrated by Martin Jarvis)

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  • Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome (narrated by Martin Jarvis)

Note: I occasionally accept review copies from the publisher. Posts written from review copies are labeled. All opinions are my own. Posts may contain affiliate links. I may receive compensation for any purchased items.

Karen from Books and Chocolate suggested the audio for Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat, saying it was “the funniest books I have ever read,” and she’s read it a number of times. I certainly have to agree that it is a ridiculous satiric Victorian novel and completely unlike the stereotypes of Victorian literature that some foster.

Much like Wooster from P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster stories (of which I’ve only listened to the audio for one of them), Three Men in a Boat is about a silly young man who tends to poetry, doesn’t work, and thinks rather highly of himself as a part of society. The audio for my edition (there are many available) was read by Martin Jarvis who is also an awarding-winning Wodehouse narrator, so the comparison is apt. In this novel, there are three such equally silly young men, and each thinks highly of himself! For various reasons, the three young men decide to take a river trip down the Thames in a boat.

But the story itself is not really about the boat trip. Rather, the narrator (called J) uses the boat trip to tell stories about everything from his opinion of wood paneling to his friend’s experiences in cemeteries. What ties the stories together is an underlying disdain of society and his own understanding of his supposed superiority in that society in so many ways. Because of that focus, the novel becomes a comedic satire of Victorian society and those in the middle class of that society, of silly young men, of vacations, and so forth.

Although the audio narration was very well done, I did find myself confused at times listening to the book and never having read it. Because I often listened in ten to twenty minute segments as I drove, I’d often begin a car trip and not remember where the characters were or if J was once again providing a digression from the actual trip down the river.  Such details didn’t really matter to minute-by-minute amusing stories of the novel, but I suspect if I had read a hard copy of the book, I may have looked at a map (such as this one) to see where these places were (I am rather clueless on England’s geography) and to enjoy the progression down the river. If I ever am to go to England, I’ll have to reread this book for the ridiculous factoids given about each location.

I realize I have said nothing of the dog, and I suppose that is just as well, for the narrator never does say much about him either. I have neglected much of the humor in the book. Three Men in a Boat is quite fun and I’m proud to add it to the Victorian Literature category, since it defies the stereotypical expectations normally found therein. I highly recommend it if you like the Jeeves stories!

Reviewed on July 23, 2010

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • I’ve heard so much about this one I think I really need to read it. But probably the text version, not the audio!

    • Amanda, I tend to like audiobooks but I’ve been in a weird non-audiobook mood this year. This one is lots of fun — great narration — but I never was in the car long enough to get in the groove, I guess. I hope you like the book when you read it!

    • Tricia, I haven’t read that. I am always a bit wary of modern fiction, just because they tend to through in crude jokes. If the jokes are more like this book (very Victorian in tone, even when making fun of society) then maybe I”d like it, but could you tell me: are the jokes in the modern novel infused with sexual innuendo or other modern crudity? If so, it’s probably not for me.

  • I do like the Jeeves stories and I even have a copy of this book, so the next time I’m in the mood for a light romp, I will definitely pick it up. I find I’m very much a visual learner, so for me, a physical book is always going to be preferable to an audiobook. I find I have a harder time focusing on plot (and certainly writing!) when I’m listening to a story as opposed to reading it myself. I will definitely stick to the written version for this one!

    • Steph, this is not a “plot” book so if that’s why audio wouldn’t work that would not be an issue. It reads almost like a series of vignettes. But, like I said, the audio didn’t work for me this time around regardless. I think it’s a perfect “light romp.” I hope you enjoy it when you get a chance to!

  • I really enjoyed this book. It had a special connection for me as I live a few miles from the Thames and grew up close to many of the places mentioned. Reading the book encouraged me to do a little bit of research into my local history. I’m really pleased that you enjoyed it, but I imagine that it must be much harder to follow if you’re not aware of the geography. The humor is great though and I second the recommendation of Connie Willis’s book – if you enjoyed this then you’ll like that too 🙂

  • Ooh, I LOVE Wodehouse & had only heard of this tangentially, so thanks for bringing it to my attention, Rebecca! Will definitely check it out the next time I’m in the mood for a light & frothy romp. 🙂

  • I’ve never listened to an audio book, I’m not sure that I would like it although I imagine that Martin Jarvis would be very good at it. You should have a go at the sequel – Three Men on the Bummel. It isn’t quite as funny, but still very enjoyable.

    • Katrina, I used to love audiobooks a lot — when I was driving about an hour to work. Lately, I am only int he car for 5-10 minutes at a time so they don’t work so well! I’ll have to find the sequel to this sometime when I need another escape book!

  • Thanks for the link to my review! I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy the audio as much as I did. I can understand how all the digressions could be confusing. I wish I’d thought of actually looking at a map.

    By the way, I’ve given you a Versatile Blogger Award. Thanks again for all your great reviews.

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