The subtitle of this witty ditty is “To Say Nothing of the Dog” – and who’d have thought that prime suspect Montgomery the fox terrier with attitude was the only character of the batch to be a figment of the author’s imagination?
A critic from the Guardian guffawed that he “fell out of bed laughing” after reading this (it would have been more appropriate had he tumbled into the Thames, mind you), and a comment from the Observer said rather wistfully that “Reading it is like spending time with a favourite uncle whose anecdotes you’d happily listen to over and over again”, which I thought was rather nice. I can see that there could be something rather reassuring about dipping back into this book on occasion and revisiting certain scenes, for there is an abundance of comic moments. It’s terribly haw-haw British, and the book rightfully earns its honourable place on the considerable Classics Club list.
Reading “Three Men in a Boat”, formerly conceived to be a travel book for its times, is a bit like doing an extended boat tour of the Thames with an eccentric tour guide and his unmanageable pooch. Awash with historical tidbits and scenic diversions, we get snippets about the King John and the Magna Carta; we get to take a virtual tour round Sonning, “the most fairy-like little nook”, and we get a scurrilous account of the perhaps in“famous” (?) Medmanham monks and the bogus abbey better known as the “Hell Fire Club”. It’s not hard at all to imagine times of yore, with passages describing “that foolish boy Henry VIII courting his little Anne”, and was great fun to have them mention Hambledon Lock (surely not possibly the same Hambledon that is so close to my heart, otherwise why didn’t they just pop into the village shop for their supplies, one wonders?). It’s a very jolly jaunt, and am sure many have retraced Jerome’s steps with great joy and far few adventures and mishaps.
I quite enjoyed the slapstick elements of the prose too. We get to meet ‘poor’ Uncle Podger, who lives up to his name by managing to make a mountain out of a molehill with every menial household task, usually involving “the whole family, including the girl, and the charwoman”, and inevitably resulting in him declaring “Oh, you can give it up! I’ve found it myself now. Might just as well ask the cat to find anything as expect you people to find it”, because of course he’d been Laurel-and-Hardy-style sitting on the offending article the whole time…
There’s also the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Broad Daylight. Montmorency provides some laugh out loud moments, most memorably when losing a fighting battle with a boiling kettle. Guaranteed to bring a smile if not a guffaw, that page has been earmarked for the next time I pick this gently comic book up for a taste of times gone by, when England was quite possibly a more green and pleasant land, particularly for the landed gentry – messing about on the river must have been such a perfectly idyllic occupation back then…
Rating : 7/10
Classics Club read n° 33.