About Me

Tollesbury, Essex, United Kingdom
I was born in the Summer of 1969 in Dagenham, just on the border of East London. School was largely unproductive but enjoyable, setting me up for something of a wayward but interesting life! On leaving school I had various jobs including putting up stalls at Romford Market, working in a record shop, putting up ceilings, gardening and road sweeping. After resigning from an insurance company to play in a band, I found myself unemployed for two years. Then finally I got back on my feet and I've been a psychiatric nurse since 1997. I wrote A Cleansing of Souls when I was 22 years old and followed it up with Tollesbury Time Forever almost twenty years later. I started writing The Bird That Nobody Sees in September 2011 and it was released in July 2012. In terms of writing, my heroes are Jack Kerouac and John Steinbeck. I would also include Kris Kristofferson, Bob Dylan and Tom Waits as literary influences. So that's me I guess - scruffy, happy and in love with literary fiction, music and life...

Saturday, 23 June 2012

A Review of Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome

I had known of this book for many years but had never read it. I had some vague notion that it was about some kind of smug, middle-class boating trip full of scrapes amd observations. Certainly not the sort of thing that my left-leaning, serious, twenty-something self was drawn to. And then when there was a TV re-creation with Griff Rhys Jones playing one of the parts, well, that more or less sealed it for me. But read it now I have and this is what I made of it...

Jerome K Jerome was thirty years old when he wrote Three Men in a Boat in 1889. At two years old, when the family business collapsed, along with their middle class aspirations, the Jerome family found themselves moving to Poplar in the East End of London, living in relative poverty. Jerome left school at fourteen and had various jobs from hack journalist to clerk and as a touring actor. So no Oxford or Cambridge for this man whose novel (which remember I hadn't then read!) represented to me the very ethos of the middle-classes. Messing around in boats? How dare they!

So to the book itself. Well first I must say that Three Men in a Boat has some of the funniest, wittiest scenes I have read in any book. As Jerome K Jerome was two years old when his family's business collapsed, so PG Wodehouse was two years old when Three Men in a Boat was published. Jeeves and Wooster, to my mind, would never have seen the light of day were it not for Jerome K Jerome! The jokes, the asides, the set-pieces, none would be out of place today. I struggle at times to find the humour in some fifties shows/films and I certainly have difficulty with alot of the modern day sit-coms, yet I found myself laughing aloud at the antics of Jerome, George and Harris. The descriptions of Harris and what he has got up  to in his life are wonderful but for me it is the observations on life of the author that carry the greatest humour. Again, bear in mind that Oscar Wilde didn't write any of his famous comic plays, beginning with Lady Windermere's Fan, until 1892, three years after the publication of Three Men in a Boat.

Here are few examples of lines from Three Men in a Boat which could easily be ascribed to Oscar Wilde:

  • Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need - a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing. 
  • People who have tried it, tell me that a clear conscience makes you very happy and contented; but a full stomach does the business quite as well, and is cheaper, and more easily obtained.
  • It always does seem to me that I am doing more work than I should do. It is not that I object to the work, mind you; I like work: it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours.
The structure of the book is odd at times - a combination of historical facts as the men make their way down the Thames, humourous anecdotes from one or other of the companions and, at times, poetic passages that muse upon nature and such. Though the first two of these plot devices work magnificently I did feel that the latter was somewhat out of kilter with the rest of the book. It is a much better book when it is frivolous and engaging and indeed informative.

So what could the forty-something me have said to the twenty-something me to have led me to have read this wonderful book sooner than I did?

"You'd like it. You love Oscar Wilde so it might be right up your street..."

"It won't be anything like Oscar Wilde. He is the greatest! Did Jerome K Jerome go to prison? Did he try and usurp the upper middle classes with his wit? Did he die a pauper's death in Paris? No! Well how can he be anything like Oscar Wilde?"

"I'll come back in a few years time, you may feel differently then...

I guess that's the beauty of great books. They are there for you your whole life just waiting for you to be ready for them.


Nick Wilford said...

I like your last paragraph, Stu. We can't judge a book by its cover or by first impressions. I think I had pretty much the same image of this book as you. Thanks for educating us about it!

Stu Ayris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stu Ayris said...

Thanks for reading the review Nick! Hope all is well and that your novel is coming on the way you would like it.

Yes, it works two ways I think. There are books I read when I was a teenager that I desperately wanted to understand and couldn't but have since re-read them and feel I understand them now. And there are books I didn't want to read when I was at school, but had to, that now I love. An example of the former I guess would be On The Road and an example of the latter would be something like To Kill A Mockingbird. I've even started reading Charles Dickens again. I confess I have barely got through a couple of chapters before at various periods when I've tried to read his novels. I am now on chapter 3 of Barnaby Rudge and loving it!!

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