I had read Three Men in a Boat (and its sequel Three Men on the Bummel) years ago, probably in my early teens, in a French translation, and kept a wonderful memory of such amusing novels…

For a long time I had been wanting to reread them, and finally took the time. Boy was I disappointed! What I remembered like a very funny story full of anecdotes about three men deciding to spend a fortnight on a boat turned out to be a bore. Have I changed so much in the past years? Have I transformed in my memory a mildly amusing book into something laughing-out-loud funny? Had the translator of the French version done a terrific job turning somehow Jerome’s weak jokes into something truly hilarious? I’ll never know…

Three Men in a Boat is part travelogue part anecdotic novel narrated by J., who decides to spend a fortnight with his two friends, Harry and George, on the river Thames. Beginning with the narrator hypochondriac tendencies (he is convinced to have every disease in the book except housemaid’s knee), it proceeds by telling the preparative for the trip and the trip itself, with many digressions on boating or other anecdotes. Jerome also introduces mock bits of poetic language, in order to contrast them with his friends’ prosaic minds, and historical background to the towns they pass…

As funny as I remembered finding it, I thought this time that Jerome’s humor was very heavy handed, exaggerated to the point of putting the reader off, and, on the whole, trying too hard to keep a cheerful tone. Too bad I didn’t stay on my first impression. Some books should never be reread: they do not pass the test of time. Originally, I had planed to reread the sequel, Three Men on the Bummel, but on second thoughts I would prefer not to… I however advise the Penguin classics edition featuring both novels, for the very enlightening introduction by Jeremy Lewis, which provides a very useful background information on the novel. Judging this novel as I did, I sound like the snobbish people like Eliot or Forster scorning the "clerking classes" (see afore-mentioned introduction), which I did not intend to. Really, I usually love English sense of humor, but Three Men in a Boat didn’t do the trick. I had intended to reread the Jeeves series by Woodehouse, but I am afraid a similar disappointment might be in store for me…

Rating: 3/5 

for finding it funny once…