Jerome Jerome. Two words into the review and already Word is complaining and suggest I “delete repeated word”. I cannot, though, as Jerome Jerome - the fourth child of Jerome Jerome – is one of the funniest and most underrated English writers of all time. And Three Men in a Boat is arguably his greatest work. Yet, while authors like P G Wodehouse is famed across the globe, hardly anyone has heard of Jerome (as I shall refer to him to silence Word) outside Great Britain.
The story follows the escapades of three English gentlemen – and a dog – determined to experience the joys of “roughing it”. They hire a boat for an trip up the Thames, and promptly embark on a hilarious adventure where they discover that braving the great outdoors may not be everything they thought it would be.
The humour lies not in the plot, but in the detail. A relaxing holiday on the river, rowing and sailing upstream, seeing the sights, and camping in the boat during overnight stops – what could possibly go wrong? Well, as it turns out – just about everything. The boat is a wreck, the three gentlemen not very suited for the rougher outdoor pursuits and the dog seems to be the most sensible creature onboard.
Jerome’s masterful style turns even the most mundane events into a series of hilarious epics. He said himself “I did not intend to write a funny book, at first. I did not know I was a humorist”. Nonsense, I say. Three Men in a Boat is not only extremely funny – it changed both the history of yachting and the history of humour. Within 12 month of the book being published, the number of pleasure boats on the Themes had doubled. And modern stand-up comedy? Well, the link may be less direct, but in my opinion Jerome’s informal and direct style greatly influenced comedy – forcing it into a much less formal style.
Three Men in a Boat is a must read for anyone with a sense of humour. The biggest issue I have with the story is that it is much too short. But luckily Three Men in a Boat was followed by the equally funny but much less known Three Men on the Bummel – where the boat was exchanged for bicycles and the Themes with German alps.