Imagine Bertie Wooster and two of his idiot friends out on a boat... with no Jeeves. That about describes "Three Men in a Boat : To Say Nothing of the Dog," Jerome K. Jerome's enchanting comic novel about three young men (to say nothing of the dog) who discover the "joys" of roughing it.
The three men are George, Harris and the narrator, who are all massive hypochiandriacs -- they find that they have symptoms of every disease in existance (except housemaid's knee). To prop up their failing health, they decide to take a cruise down the Thames in a rented boat, camping and enjoying nature's bounty.
Along with Monty -- an angelic-looking, devilish terrier -- the three friends set off down the river. But they find that not everything is as easy as they expected. They get lost in hedge mazes, end up going downstream without a paddle, encounter monstrous cats and vicious swans, have picnics navigate locks, offend German professors, and generally get into every kind of trouble they possibly can...
Even though it was published more than a century ago, "Three Men in a Boat" remains as freshly humorous as when it was first published. While editor/playwright/author Jerome K. Jerome wrote a lot of other books, this book remains his most famous. And once you've read it, you'll see why.
Jerome's real talent is in finding humor in everyday things, like trying to erect a tent in the woods, getting seasick, or questioning whether it's safe to drink river water. Written in Jerome's dry, goofy prose, these little occurrances become immensely funny. One of the funniest parts of the book is when the boys listen to a fishermen telling of his prowess, only to accidently knock down his record-breaking stuffed fish.... and discover it's made out of plaster. Oops.
But Jerome takes a break from the humor near the end, when the boys find a drowned woman floating in the river. And here he becomes solemn and quietly compassionate: "She had sinned - some of us do now and then - and her family and friends, naturally shocked and indignant, had closed their doors against her."
But back on the funny stuff. The capstone on all this humor is the "three men." These guys are basically pampered Victorian aristocrats, who have a romantic yearning for the great outdoors. You'll be laughing at them and with them, as they struggle through the basics of boating and camping.
It's worth noting that the Digireads edition of this book is very good, with a flexible cover, extremely strong binding, and a nice reproduction with rather small print. Think "Dover Thrift," but of higher quality.
Funny, wacky and creepily true to life, "Three Men in a Boat" is an enduring comic classic in the vein of PG Wodehouse. Not to mention the dog!