The first person I knew of to write a review of every book that he read in a year was my old English teacher, Mr Simpson. He presumably had dozens of books full of reviews of every book he had ever read – and considering as how he had read almost every book ever (only a slight exaggeration) I feel I have quite a long way to go in order to make a dent into his own pre-blog-era blog. However, as I so distinctly remember him recommending Three Men In A Boat to us at school, it seems a suitable book to include here.
When I was at school, I read pretty prolifically – no surprises there – but at no point would I ever have seriously considered reading a Victorian novel about some men who take a boat up the river Thames. I mean, what exciting could happen? Could any wonderful events happen that could possibly liven up a novel with such dull subject matter?
The short answer is no. Nothing happens in this book at all, except that some men get in a boat and row up the Thames. However, the beauty of this book is not in what doesn’t happen, but in how nothing happening is described. Coming up somewhere as a cross between Waiting For Godot and Family Guy, the eponymous three men row on up the river having little conversations and arguments which remind the narrating character of a little anecdote about fishing, or bagpipes, or German pianists, which in turn can remind him of another anecdote, this time involving smelly cheeses, choosing the correct hotel, or mustard, until abruptly we are back in the present on the boat. The truly wonderful thing about these meanderings, is that despite being over 120 years old, they are still amusing. Some of the opinions have changed in that time, but the basic humour is still funny and warm.
The thing that holds these funny flashbacks together however is the three main characters. All are boastful, lazy, unskilled, judgemental and completely unaware of any of their faults, whilst simultaneously looking down on the other two for having the exact same failings. Despite this, you cannot help but feel particularly warm towards them, and look on them in the same way that you may look on a child who thinks that they know everything, but hasn’t yet a clue about anything real in the world.
This won’t be the highest scoring book I read this year, but it is definitely one I would recommend to anyone. At about 150 pages, it is not a massive read, but is remarkably accessible for a book so old, and makes you feel as though you are reading some good classic literature.