Three Men in a Boat
is one of those books which have become legend. It is quoted as a must-read for all humour afficionados: it is touted as one of the funniest books in the English language. So I am a little bit ashamed that I waited so long to read it!
Then, you may ask, why only the three stars?
The pluses first. The book is really humorous: in many places, I could not control my sniggers and was doubled up in front of the computer screen (this was just before dinner yesterday, BTW, so my wife thought I was in agony from hunger and ran off to the kitchen to heat the food). British humour is dependent on exaggeration and understatement. They exaggerate the humdrum (the smell of cheese in the railway compartment, for example, from the tome under discussion) and understate the momentous; and the disparity of scale produces the humour. But the prose is always dead serious, the writer never for a moment advertising the fact that he is writing something funny. It gets me every time, even on the re-reads (sometime, in the case of P.G.Wodehouse, even on the re-re-re-...reads).
Jerome K. Jerome is a fine writer. As with all good writers of humour, language is putty in his hands. I can detect many of Wodehouse's classic turns of phrase in Jerome's work, so Wodehouse must have drawn inspiration from him.
The minuses? Well, pretty much everything else.
Apart from the humour, the book has little else to recommend it. The journey is rambling and uninteresting: the discussion of the English villages do not stay in the mind: the historical vignettes, even though well-realised, seems to be too "text-book"y and out of place: and one particular passage, about the corpse of the lovely girl floating in the river, is outright bad
and could be straight out of a pulp novel. These dragged this book down from five stars to three stars for me.
But I will still go back and read certain passages like Uncle Podger putting up the picture, Harris singing comic songs, the travails of the poor German singer, and George getting up early in the morning by mistake. These are vintage British humour.
Recommended for all those who love to laugh.