Thursday 28 April 2011

Retro Review: Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome

Engaging from the very first page as narrator Jerome tells us of his shocking realisation that he has every disease ever discovered except for housemaid’s knee…

‘’I felt rather hurt about this at first; it seemed somehow to be a sort of slight. Why hadn’t I got housemaid’s knee? Why this invidious reservation? After a while, however, less grasping feelings prevailed. I reflected that I had every other known malady in the pharmacology, and I grew less selfish, and determined to do without housemaid’s knee.’’

… this is a truly fantastic book. Darting here and there from his main objective of telling us about a journey he, Harris, George and his dog Montmorency took up the Thames, JKJ informs us of the river’s history, of his friends’ problems with sea trips, old men trying to show him tombs… all of it is hilarious. One of the most surprising things about the book is how fresh it seems more than a century after publication. The language used is extremely accessible to today’s readers (apart from a few of Jerome’s more lyrical passages, which I have a soft spot for anyway although I know many people think they’re the weakest part of the book) and the situations the trio find themselves in will be immediately recognisable to anyone who’s struggled with confusing railway station layouts, practical jokers at parties, and people who have a rather over-inflated sense of their own singing talent, amongst others.

(By the way, to those of you worried about Jerome’s disease collection, a doctor found him to be something of a hypochondriac, giving him the following prescription:

‘’1 lb. beefsteak, with 1 pt. bitter beer every 6 hours.
1 ten-mile walk every morning.
1 bed at 11 sharp every night.
And don’t stuff up your head with things you don’t understand.’’

Huge recommendation to all.

Wonderfully, it's available free at Project Gutenberg here.

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