Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) was my favourite novel last year. It was completely new to me and a great surprise. I was excited to discover a sequel existed, although I approached it with some trepidation knowing it almost certainly wouldn’t live up to the first book.
“A ‘Bummel’,” I explained, “I should describe as a journey, long or short, without an end; the only thing regulating it being the necessity of getting back within a given time to the point from which one started. Sometimes it is through busy streets, and sometimes through the fields and lanes; sometimes we can be spared for a few hours, and sometimes for a few days. But long or short, but here or there, our thoughts are ever on the running of the sand. We nod and smile to many as we pass; with some we stop and talk awhile; and with a few we walk a little way. We have been much interested, and often a little tired. But on the whole we have had a pleasant time, and are sorry when it’s over.”
The three men, sans dog, decide to take a cycling trip through the German Black Forest. Like the first book, the trip is really just there to provide an opportunity for Jerome to deliver his witty observations. It was interesting how relatable most aspects of the trip still were today, 117 years later – from trying to communicate through phrases in a guide book to struggling to understand your train ticket. A big difference in Three Men on the Bummel is that each scene feels more structured, with more focus put on the set piece itself rather than the anecdotes and rambling thoughts that come with it, but in a way the confinement of a slightly more refined narrative is what holds this book back from the level the first reached.
A barrage of rambling thoughts and anecdotes with no plot to hold it together would not normally be a positive for me, but every page of Three Men in a Boat was hilarious and insightful. There might literally be a quotable line on every page. This book has some hilarious moments, and I very much enjoyed reading it, but I don’t think it will stick with me in the same way. In fact, I know it won’t, because I read this a couple of months ago (I’m behind, don’t judge) and managed to lose my notes when switching phones, and I am having a bit of trouble recalling more than a few specific scenes. Not sure if that’s an indication of this being less memorable, though, or just the normal for my awful goldfish memory.
I hate when people come back from a trip and suddenly decide they have insights into the psyche of that country’s citizens, from speaking to a couple of people on a train, a bartender, and a taxi driver, but that said, this observation at the end of the novel did jump out at me as somewhat chilling, considering the wars that were still to come:
The German can rule others, and be ruled by others, but he cannot rule himself. […] Their everlasting teaching is duty. It is a fine ideal for any people; but before buckling to it, one would wish to have a clear understanding as to what this “duty” is. The German idea of it would appear to be: “blind obedience to everything in buttons. […] When his troubles will begin will be when by any chance something goes wrong with the governing machine.
Despite my lack of gushing, I did thoroughly enjoy this. Jerome K. Jerome was a comic genius, and I plan to read everything he’s written.