Yes, it’s true, I only finished this because of my affection for To Say Nothing of the Dog, which steals its title from the subtitle of this book. I gave up on it for several weeks, and it took a plane trip and some work lunches to get me to actually finish it.
Which is not to say that it’s bad. It’s actually quite delightful. But this is definitely one of those stories that was meant for serialization, which is how it was first published way back in the day. It gets a little tedious all at once.
Three Men in a Boat is ostensibly about a up the River Thames with Jerome and two of his friends, to say nothing of Jerome’s dog Montmorency, which is totally the name of my next puppy. In fact, it started out as a guide to river travel! But the river trip is less the point of the story than a vessel (see what I did there?) for Jerome to tell amusing anecdotes about fishermen lying about the fish they’ve caught, hitching a tow up the river with someone who lost the boat she should have been towing, cute little doggies starting giant fights, and other such tangential funtimes.
Jerome also has astute observations on life, like how to boil water: “If it sees that you are waiting for it and are anxious, it will never even sing. You have to go away and begin your meal, as if you were not going to have any tea at all. You must not even look round at it. Then you will soon hear it sputtering away, mad to be made into tea.”
Or how to be lazy: “And I am careful of my work, too. Why, some of the work that I have by me now has been in my possession for years and years, and there isn’t a finger-mark on it. I take a great pride in my work; I take it down now and then and dust it. No man keeps his work in a better state of preservation than I do.”
And all the writing is chuckle-ful like that, so that’s good, but there’s no plot and very little even connecting these anecdotes, so it’s hard to stay focused. I can see what Connie Willis sees in this book, and as I read it I could where she stole things to put in her own. But I’d rather go read To Say Nothing of the Dog again!
Recommendation: Best in small doses, best read by lovers of non-sequitur humor.