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Wednesday, February 15, 2006 

Three Men In a Boat

Do you think that a funny book could at best tickle, or get a chuckle out of you, but couldn’t throw you in a fit of laughter? Do you think that if such a book exists, the characters would be far from reality? Does the first name to come to your mind when speaking about humour in literature is P. G. Wodehouse?

If the answers to the above questions are yes, then most probably you haven’t read ‘Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the dog)’ by Jerome K. Jerome.

'Three men in a boat' is about three regular people (George, Harris and Jerome) who decide that they need a break from the humdrum of daily life. So the three friends, and Jerome’s dog, decide to take a trip down Thames River in a boat. Nothing goes too wrong with their trip, but nothing goes too right either, and the incidents (or should I say accidents) and the related anecdotes narrated by Jerome are presented in a way so as to arouse laughter.

The beauty of the book is how easy it is to relate to the characters, and the incidents narrated as well. Every now and then, you are forced to quip, “Hey, I know such a person.” Or “This happened to me”. However the same thing did not seem to be as funny then. With the slightest of exaggeration and a touch of humour, Jerome makes regular incidents look so funny. The book was written in 1888 in England, but the fact that anyone can identify with it just goes to show that basic human nature remains the same, irrespective of time and place.

Just to show how universal the book is, here is an extract from the book. Jerome has read a circular which list the symptoms of a disease, and feels he has it.

In the present instance, going back to the liver-pill circular, I had the symptoms, beyond all mistake, the chief among them being "a general disinclination to work of any kind”.
What I suffer in that way no tongue can tell. From my earliest infancy I have been a martyr to it. As a boy, the disease hardly ever left me for a day. They did not know, then, that it was my liver. Medical science was in a far less advanced state than now, and they used to put it down to laziness.
"Why, you skulking little devil, you," they would say, "get up and do something for your living, can't you?" - not knowing, of course, that I was ill.

And they didn't give me pills; they gave me clumps on the side of the head. And, strange as it may appear, those clumps on the head often cured me - for the time being. I have known one clump on the head have more effect upon my liver, and make me feel more anxious to go straight away then and there, and do what was wanted to be done, without further loss of time, than a whole box of pills does now.

You know, it often is so - those simple, old-fashioned remedies are sometimes more efficacious than all the dispensary stuff.

There are two criticisms the book faces. One is that sometimes Jerome gets too descriptive with the scenery and the locations they visit, and tends to lose the readers interest. The second is one by most fiction readers, that this book isn’t “un-put-down-able” i.e. you can’t read all of it at one go. They way I look at it; it’s a strength, as you can have your laughter in bits and pieces. Read a little bit of the book whenever you are feeling down, this is guaranteed to raise you spirits.

(One may ask why I am reviewing a book written ages ago. Well, just because many of my friends have neither heard this of this book, nor the author. The book is freely available on the net, without any copyright issues. Click here to read)