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!