I have long had this book sitting on my shelf. Actually, it's been sitting on the "recommended for a laugh" shelf for years now. And I scraped a price tag off of it that tells me I bought it way back in 2001. So for an appallingly long time, I haven't touched a book that came highly recommended, about which I occasionally hear very positive things even from people not inclined to read a whole lot. I don't know whether I was afraid it wouldn't live up to everything I'd heard or what exactly had slowed me down from reading it, but I have to say to anyone else out there with Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat sitting neglected on a shelf: take it down and settle in to a very enjoyable read, one that will make you smile and chuckle and even break out into a full fledged laugh that will make others in public look at you strangely and move their seats as far from you as possible.
Written in 1889, this novel is an hilarious travel narrative peppered with small amounts of English history. Jerome, two of his equally hypochondriac friends, and Montmorency, a fox terrier, decide to scull up the river Thames for a fortnight. They are looking for a bit of a rest from their apparently strenuous lives, lives the reader soon discovers are mostly indolent and non-taxing in the extreme. The fresh air will certainly cure them of their imagined ills. And so they head off on their boating holiday. As they row upriver, Jerome takes the opportunity to tell brief bits of important (and sometimes not so important) history that occurred in the towns on the banks of the river. But in and amongst these serious pieces of information, he also chronicles the misadventures of their inept, bumbling, and lackadaisical trio using the sort of ascerbic and dry wit that is a hallmark of a certain kind of British humor. From J., George, and Harris's slapstick occurrences on this present trip to flashbacks of previous trips and completely tangential but hysterically funny stories (I defy you to read about the stinky cheese without worrying you're going to wet your pants laughing), the tale is entertaining and, despite its age, completely accessible. The three main characters are irritable and crotchety, averse to hard work, goofy, and yet incredibly adroit at telling appealing and laugh-inducing tall tales. Their teasing and good natured interactions with each other, despite all the bollocksing up they do is delightful and the humor is ultimately self-effacing, gentle, and wonderful. The book, designed to be a travelogue rather than a plot-driven read, is pleasant, funny, and marvelous and now that I know what a small gem I have on my shelf, I fully intend to take it down and enjoy it again and again.