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Friday, April 27, 2012

Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome, 1889, * * * *

Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) was an instant success when it was published in 1889 and it has been in print ever since.  It has to be one of the funniest books every written beginning with the opening chapter where the narrator reads a medical book and decides that he has every medical disease mentioned excepting 'housemaid's knee."  From there, he and his two bet friends, and a world-weary fox terrier named Montmorency decide to get away from it all with a boat trip up the River Thames - and that's the book.  It's full of one hilarious episode after another with side tidbits on the historical places they pass on the way.  The humor lies not in the plot but in the detail and the antics of the three men with their differing attitudes and approaches to the problems that arise.  Most of the comedy comes from set pieces such as the agony of putting up a tent in adverse weather conditions, finding the correct train at a railway station, or the simple act of hanging a picture.  I first heard about the book on an NPR program and thought that it just could not be that funny but I was wrong.  Perhaps the key to its success is a combination of simplicity and set-piece humorous incidents, most of which have a timeless, universal appeal.  All I can say is that if you like Mark Twain and P.G. Wodehouse -- get this book -- it is intelligent, witty, and laugh-out-loud hilarious!

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