Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome: Summary and Review

the cover of the book 'three men in a boat'

Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) is a humorous account by the renowned British author Jerome K Jerome, detailing a boating holiday spanning a couple of weeks. 

Funnily enough, the book was initially meant to be written as a serious travel guide, but the comic element in the presentation ended up overpowering everything else. The book was first published in 1889, had widespread success, and never went out of print since its first publication.

Three Men in a Boat: Summary

The story begins with an account of three friends- George, Harris, and Jerome (always called J) and J’s dog called Montmorency. The friends happen to be discussing the variety of ailments that plague them and unanimously come to the same conclusion – overwork was to blame. 

Naturally, the best antidote in that situation turns out to be a holiday, an impromptu one. Options for a holiday are floated around, and the decision of a boating trip on the Thames is finalized.

They set off the following weekend, reaching the starting point of their journey – George got there first while J and Harris came later after a series of haphazard incidents also involving their bribing a train driver. 

The rest of the story describes their journey, peppered with a description of the landmarks they passed along the way, ruminating over the historical association of these places. Most of the time, it slips into a series of humorous anecdotes- on a wide variety of topics – weather, the (un)reliability of thermometers, towlines, boats, artificial trout, Irish stew – you name it. 

Their journey ends the same way it started- eventful.

Three Men in a Boat: Review and Quotes

Back to my rant on Three Men in a Boat

I wish I could rave more about it than I do. The story has always had a significant influence on me. There are too many things I relate with J on. Just too many. 

I am a fan of his stupefying laziness and hilarious condensation of life’s profound philosophical truths. Oh no, never, I don’t think I can ever bring myself to review this – because I relate to the book personally, on so many levels. 

There is neither a start nor an end to the love that I have for this sacred piece of writing.

There is much to feel lighthearted about.

Beware of J’s uncle Podger for example:

Oh, you leave that to me. Don’t you, any of you, worry yourselves about that. I’ll do all of that.

Because he’s gonna follow up with this not long after :

Oh, you can give it up! I have found that myself now. Might just as well ask the cat to find anything, as expect you people to find it

I’d be surprised if you don’t know at least one such character from your own life. I have more than I need of this Podger supply.

Their familial woes are not even the tip of the iceberg; their culinary skills are simply out of the world. 

Consider their community-based preparation of the Irish stew. Even Montmorency was fully invested in the preparation of this exotic meal:

I forget the other ingredients, but I know nothing was wasted; and I remember that, towards the end, Montmorency, who had evinced great interest in the proceedings throughout, strolled away with an earnest and thoughtful air, reappearing, a few minutes afterwards, with a dead water-rat in his mouth, which he evidently wished to present as his contribution to the dinner; whether in a sarcastic spirit, or with a genuine desire to assist, I cannot say.

If you thought that was enough, the gentlemen even deliberated putting the rat into the stew.

Wait till you hear his rant about weather predictions; it’s funny that this is as relevant now as it was a century and a half ago:

I do think that of all the silly, irritating tomfoolishness that we are plagued with, this weather forecast is about the most aggravating. It forecasts precisely what happened yesterday, or the day before, and precisely the opposite of what is going to happen today.

And then there are priceless hacks on tenets on preservation:

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.

The book was first published in the late nineteenth century and never went out of print. Fans of the book recreate the trip to this day, replete with visits to some of the joints mentioned in the book that survives to this day. 

One of Mr.Jerome’s publishers famously mentioned this to a friend:

 “I pay Jerome so much in royalties”, “I cannot imagine what becomes of all the copies of that book I issue. I often think the public must eat them.”

That says something, doesn’t it?

The book has much to offer if you are looking for a light-hearted read. At the very least, it offers a respite from the mad rush of life-jumping from one goalpost to another. Running from one mindfulness lesson to another implementing none. 

If nothing else, the bare minimum takeaway from this book is a mantra as simple as this: 

Sit back. Relax.

If the three men with extraordinary intelligence could survive a Thames trip, it would be a miracle if you don’t.

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