A sixteen year old me would have loved Three Men In A Boat. The thirty one year old is less taken by its rambling travelogue. I still found it funny, and its constant digressions entertained, but it pales in comparison to what followed it. Clearly Jerome K Jerome’s book and style was immensely influential on PG Wodehouse. In Jerome’s own character as presented there is more than a dollop of Bertie Wooster, and the occasional appearance of a banjo seems like more than a coincidence too. So Three Men In A Boat feels to me like Wodehouse without the intricate plots: entertaining but lacking the killer punch of farce. All of which is thorough unfair to Jerome K Jerome.
Reading it as a travelogue, history book or as a guide to Jerome’s period is much more instructive. Around his gags are rather sweet evocations of the Thames which does fill the reader with a hankering to see if it all still exists. From a pubgoing point of view the appearance of a Blue Posts in the early London scenes rooted its geography perfectly for me. I know a few of the places on route, and while they have changed since JKJ’s day, the atmosphere remains in places like Sonning. But if a travel book is supposed to give the reader a desire to see the places described then for me it worked perfectly. I suppose my big question that hangs over me is why it took me so long to read it?