Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
There were four of them --- George, and William Samuel Harris, and J., and Montmorency the dog. They were sitting in J.'s lodgings, comparing their ailments, and reached the conclusion that they needed rest, a "change of scene, and absence of the necessity for thought." Two weeks in a hired rowing boat on the River Thames was chosen as the best remedy, although Montmorency thought "the whole thing bally foolishness". The three friends packed their bags and set off to enjoy themselves.
Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) follows the narrator J. and George and Harris from Kingston to Oxford. There is enough information for those who wish to follow in the men's wake, but the book is not really about the traveling. It is about friendship. The men argue, lose their tempers and break things, but at the end of their vacation they have had a wonderful time.
Above all, the book is funny. It is one of the funniest book I've read, managing to not only provide chuckles and guffaws throughout, but in several places causing me to laugh out loud. The best episode, I thought, was J.'s explanation of why neither "paraffine" oil nor cheese should ever be included in a list of items to be taken on a boat trip. His retelling of Harris's experience with swans came a close second. Jerome's writing occasionally lurches from the comic and vernacular to poetic musings on landscape, but this serves to throw the humour into relief.
Anyone who has been away with a group of mates will relate to the book. If the holiday was spent outdoors in Britain, even more so. I believe that is what continues to make Three Men in a Boat so popular nearly 130 years after it was written. It so wonderfully held a mirror up to the plucky British character, the types who, no matter how dreadful the situation in which they found themselves, insisted "We had come out for a fortnight's enjoyment on the river, and a fortnight's enjoyment on the river we meant to have.
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