This book was first brought to my attention by FictionFan, who has mentioned in a few posts, and reviewed it here. After reading the first chapter, I couldn’t believe that I had somehow gone my entire life without this book. Jerome has created a masterpiece of humor, a sort of travelogue with random reminiscences thrown in, and a little spice of thoughtfulness as well.
Published in 1889, the story follows our narrator, J., as he and two of his friends, Harris and George. Feeling weary of their everyday life, they decide to take a holiday by boating up the Thames. But the joy of this story is in the narration itself, as J. gives us plenty of asides. While the book loosely follows their journey, much the book is meandering anecdotes, a style that feels like it ought to be annoying but is honestly just pure delight. I could not stop laughing while I was reading this book, and probably read over half of it out loud to my ever-patient husband, because so much of this story was just too much fun to keep to myself.
I tried to mark pages to quote for this review, but realized that what I really wanted to do was quote the entire book, which means that you just simply need to sit down and read it for yourself as soon as you possibly can.
One of the things that I loved about this story was how while the setting was obviously dated, the story didn’t seem to be at all. The adventures and thoughts of these three were completely relatable, right from the first page where J. tells us how he visited the the British Museum and started reading about various diseases and realized that he had them all! While WebMD may have given us a more modern access to hypochondria, it is most certainly not an issue limited to our place in time!
The whole book is that way. The classic story of Uncle Podger hanging a picture (who hasn’t known someone just like him?!), the comforting realization that a full stomach makes you feel just as happy and contented as a clear conscience (and so much cheaper and more easily obtained!), the foul and dirty nature of a tow line – Jerome captures our human nature perfectly, and, in the process, reveals that we really haven’t changed that much in the almost 130 years since he wrote this tale.
Besides humorous anecdotes, Jerome also gives us snippets of history and various travel tips that are thoroughly engaging, and also manages to touch on serious topics with a deft hand, somehow slipping it between funny bits without detracting from the story or trivializing the issue at hand. His few pages on a young, unmarried mother who found that drowning herself in the river was easier than continuing to live under a cloud of shame and poverty genuinely choked me up, and added yet another layer to the fact that human nature – both of those who have been judged and those who judge – really hasn’t changed that much, either.
In short, this is a book that is very much worth reading. As I said at the beginning, I cannot believe that I have never read it before – or even heard that much about it! This book is a delight that I think everyone would – and should! – enjoy. I will definitely be adding a copy to my personal shelves very soon, and the sequel, Three Men on the Bummel, is next in the queue to read.