The Guardian describes Three Men in a Boat as one of the funniest English books ever written. Which is an interesting description for a book that – as evidenced by its title – aspires to nothing more than the gentlest of humour. The plot ingeniously keeps to the same pace as the proverbial boat, a leisurely drift down the Thames. And like that eponymous boat, you could never say it was making slow progress, but only because it decidedly isn’t trying to get anywhere. So put your feet up on the prow, pour yourself a porter or three, and watch the sunlight dance lazily on the riverbank.
The actual plot goes likes this: three lazy hypochondriacs decide to take a trip down the Thames to get a change of air, thinking it will be good for their various catalogue of imaginary ailments. They set-out, and basically nothing really happens to them. This is fiction at its least embellished. Highlights of the book include a struggle to put up a tent, someone falling into the water, and – I’m scraping the hull here – a man drinking lemonade. There was nothing in this book that could be described as a plot, and you’d have to push the boat out for ‘caper’.
“You can never rouse Harris. There is no poetry about Harris- no wild yearning for the unattainable. Harris never "weeps, he knows not why." If Harris's eyes fill with tears, you can bet it is because Harris has been eating raw onions, or has put too much Worcester over his chop.”
Yet, even with so much action packed in, this book doesn’t lose touch with its humourous soul. It’s fantastic. It certainly floated my... water-vehicle, and – for a book billed as humorous – it certainly is funny. Sort of. It’s just hard to describe exactly how. It isn’t rolling on the floor funny, or laugh out loud funny, or even ‘hey guess what I just read’ funny. It is the kind of wonderful book that will make you... smile. And not one of those big toothy grins, or wide beamers. It’s more one of those little half-cocked, one-sided knowing smiles that drifts from ‘oh stop it... you’re incorrigible’, to ‘ah, isn’t it nice to be alive’.
It is nice to be be alive, especially when reading this book. Even more wonderfully, I think, I learned precisely nothing from reading it. Not only did I not gain any new knowledge or wisdom, I had the strange feeling that I had actually lost some whilst reading it. Not the important stuff, you understand, but I decidedly felt that some of the less useful neurons swirling around the recesses of my mind had jumped ship. Probably a few phone numbers, some school history, and the price of cheese puffs at Waitrose.
Wot I thunk
This is Jerome K Jerome’s magnum opus. A book that stunningly manages to recreate the experience of sitting in a boat for days on end. The murky water of the Thames, and amber nectar of a warm beer will be evocated for you so strongly that you’ll feel like putting the book down and swigging the imaginary ale until intoxicated. But in doing so, you’ll just be drinking the book in - and hey, rather that than Thames water.