The Classics Reclamation Project is my personal challenge to read and enjoy the classics. Each Wednesday, I post about the classic I’m reading at the moment.
Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome was published in 1889 and tells the story of three friends’ vacation traveling by boat down the Thames. It’s narrated by one of the men, and the trio is based on Jerome and two of his friends. Sadly, this author-book connection does not make me like the book or the author any better.
You know how sometimes one book you’re reading affects your perception or enjoyment of another? Before I go on, let me say that that may have happened in this case, at least partially. I started Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome just as I was finishing up The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, and the two books couldn’t have been more different. The former is light and silly, while the latter is dense and serious, a contrast that is not, in and of itself, a problem. But after reading about poverty and hardship and war in The Poisonwood Bible, my tolerance for hearing young Englishmen of comfortable means complain, even teasingly, about the inconvenience of not being able to find room in an inn for the night was extremely low. In another situation it might have amused; instead, it grated.
My other issue with the book was not, however, influenced by The Poisonwood Bible. The actual story of the three men in Three Men in a Boat sailing down the Thames takes up about a quarter of the book. The other three quarters are comprised of tangents, ramblings, anecdotes, and historical tidbits supplied by the narrator. Which is fine, I suppose; they were, in their own way, charming and amusing. But the problem I had with Three Men in a Boat is, strangely, similar to the one I had with Lewis Carroll’s Alice stories: I could easily miss parts of the book without missing out on any of the story. In the case of the Alice stories, the plot made no sense to me, so I wasn’t any more lost if I missed a bit here and there. With Three Men in a Boat, the plot was so slow and so stuffed with asides that I probably could have skipped whole chapters without losing the thread of the narrative. I kept listening because the book was part of my classics project (and I didn’t have another audiobook lined up), but had circumstances been different, I’d most likely have abandoned it.
The one thing I really did enjoy about Three Men in a Boat was Montmorency, the dog that accompanied the men on their trip. He was treated like a fourth person, and whenever he popped up, I smiled. His appearances were few and far between, though, and so not enough to redeem the book for me. I should also mention that the book is certainly well written, and for all that it’s rambling and slow, it’s also witty and clever. If you’re in the mood for such things.
I listened to Three Men in a Boat, as I’m finding myself often doing with classics. The version I borrowed from the library was read by Martin Jarvis, who was, as always, spectacular. I had no complaints about the reading; it was the story I disliked. If you’re thinking of trying Three Men in a Boat for yourself, I would highly recommend checking out Jarvis’s reading. Oh…and be sure to read it when you’re feeling a bit silly!