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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Three Men in a Boat

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When I started reading Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome, a humourous book written in 1889, I had not imagined that what lay ahead of me. Book is through and through hilarious story of three good-for-nothing lazy hypochondriac friends who decide to take one week trip along the river to help them relax. From story point of view, book offers little; rather, one can say that there isn’t really an story. Indeed what constitutes this 200 odd page narrative is collection of numerous meanderings off-shots tales which either recounts some historical episodes from protagonists past or are part of wild and vivid imaginations. Narrative is definitely old English yet flows freely and isn’t trouble to read or understand. In fact, this book affirms faith that despite hundred and quarter century of time difference and thousands of miles of cultural difference between me and them, basic human nature has hardly changed. If a minor annoyance must be noted then that should be about convoluted names and British history of various places on river they visit which a modern and non-British reader may find unfamiliar. Best way to present what is awesome about this book is exhibit collections of quotes from within. And if you don’t find them hilarious, then perhaps this book isn’t for you.

Book introduces our protagonists and their hypochondriac nature:

It is a most extraordinary thing, but I never read a patent medicine advertisement without being impelled to the conclusion that I am suffering from the particular disease therein dealt with in its most virulent form.

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.

And when they decide to take trip down the river:

…said, however, that the river would suit him to a “T.” I don’t know what a “T” is (except a sixpenny one, which includes bread-and-butter and cake, and is cheap at the price, if you haven’t had any dinner). It seems to suit everybody, however, which is greatly to its credit.

Describing one of the member of journey:

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.

Oh and oh, three men in a boat also have a dog with them. His introduction follows:

To hang about a stable, and collect a gang of the most disreputable dogs to be found in the town, and lead them out to march round the slums to fight other disreputable dogs, is Montmorency’s idea of “life.”

Montmorency’s ambition in life, is to get in the way and be sworn at. If he can squirm in anywhere where he particularly is not wanted, and be a perfect nuisance, and make people mad, and have things thrown at his head, then he feels his day has not been wasted.

Planning for the trip:

“Begin with breakfast.” (George is so practical.) “Now for breakfast we shall want a frying-pan”—(Harris said it was indigestible; but we merely urged him not to be an ass)...

And packing for the trip:

I said I’d pack.

I rather pride myself on my packing. Packing is one of those many things that I feel I know more about than any other person living. (It surprises me myself, sometimes, how many of these subjects there are.) I impressed the fact upon George and Harris, and told them that they had better leave the whole matter entirely to me. They fell into the suggestion with a readiness that had something uncanny about it. George put on a pipe and spread himself over the easy-chair, and Harris cocked his legs on the table and lit a cigar.

This was hardly what I intended. What I had meant, of course, was, that I should boss the job, and that Harris and George should potter about under my directions, I pushing them aside every now and then with, “Oh, you—!” “Here, let me do it.” “There you are, simple enough!”—really teaching them, as you might say. Their taking it in the way they did irritated me. There is nothing does irritate me more than seeing other people sitting about doing nothing when I’m working.

I’m not like that. I can’t sit still and see another man slaving and working. I want to get up and superintend, and walk round with my hands in my pockets, and tell him what to do. It is my energetic nature. I can’t help it.

And so on and so on. I could cite many, trouble being the given the wandering nature of book, quotes tend not to be just quotes but paragraphs themselves. Not good for blog but a recommended read. You have no excuse since it’s even free and available on Project Gutenberg.

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