I can’t remember where I heard about this, I think this time last year it was unknown to me, but I would like to extend an enthusiastic thank you to whoever brought this to my attention. I absolutely loved this novel.
This follows three men, and a dog, as they take a two-week holiday to travel down the Thames by boat. This was originally meant to be a serious travel guide, but it quickly become more about the humourous insights that occurred along the way. He tried to work in some history to each chapter, but the publisher, rightfully, threw most of that out. A few of those sections remain and actually feel quite out of place in this. The end result was that the trip became a framing device for hilarious anecdotes and rants. This became a novel of tangents, and for a book with essentially no plot, something that would typically annoy the hell out of me, this turned out to be a joy from start to finish.
Young Jefferson only learnt to play one tune on those bagpipes; but I never heard any complaints about the insufficiency of his repertoire — none whatever.
There are rants on food, stories of rogue boat towing, tips for tricking a tea pot to boil, meditations on the struggles of amatuer bagpipery, and hilarious insights on an endless number of other topics. For being written a century and a half ago, this feels so modern. Not just the humour, but how he writes about the current times. I found it really interesting how he kept referring to the nineteenth-century as having problems with over-crowding and being too fast-paced when that’s a time we look back on as being idyllic in its simplicity.
I like to watch an old boatman rowing, especially one who has been hired by the hour. There is something so beautifully calm and restful about his method. It is so free from that fretful haste, that vehement striving, that is every day becoming more and more the bane of nineteenth-century life.
I just searched for the above quote purely for the mention of the nineteenth-century, and it happens to be hilarious in its own right. Every line in this novel is comedy gold and beautifully written. I love his turn of phrase. When speaking of not wanting to carry on due to rain, for example, he writes that “[…] to give in to the weather in a climate such as ours would be a most disastrous precedent.” I wish I could commit every line of this to memory.
I can’t sit still and see another man slaving and working. I want to get up and superintend, and walk round with my hands in my pockets, and tell him what to do. It is my energetic nature. I can’t help it.
So, I realize this post is mainly quotes with a bit of squealing in between, but open this novel to any page and you’ll find something worth quoting. It looks like he’s published quite a few other novels, plays, and short stories, including a sequel to this and an autobiography, so it is now my mission to track all of these down. Steven Crossley did an amazing job narrating this, but I’d like to find a physical copy to read as well. I could see myself coming back to this often.