Thursday, August 11, 2011

Three Men in a Boat, At Lady Molly's

Jerome K Jerome's Three Men in a Boat is one of the classics of British humor.  So it was odd to me how much the humor resembled Mark Twain's.  Twain once wrote an essay about American humor vs British humor, in which he says that British humor is about the witty line, while American humor tends to be more about the anecdote, where there aren't really any funny lines, per se, but the whole story just sort of adds up to being funny.  Not only that, but a summary makes the story not even seem funny at all (he then goes on to use "The Jumping Frog" as an example)  Three Men in a Boat is very much in that vein of humor.  It's very funny, but you have to take several paragraphs at a time.

I can't imagine a humorist more different to Wodehouse, for that matter.  Wodehouse is all about the funny line and the tight plot.  Jerome wanders all over the place -- one could easily take any 5 pages from the book and not know whether they're from the beginning, the middle, or the end.  But, for all that, it's a very funny book, and I'm glad I got around the reading it.

I'm almost done with At Lady Molly's, the fourth book in A Dance to the Music of Time.  Jenkins gets engaged, and, characteristically doesn't write about it at all (literally -- he meets his fiancee-to-be, then picks up again months later when they're already engaged).  In general, he's much more interested in telling us about what happens to others than to himself.  (I am, of course, aware that Jenkins =/= Powell).  The series is an odd one for me.  It's pretty much exactly the sort of fiction I tend to avoid; nothing happens, and the little that does happen occurs off-screen.  The series is essentially an endless round of dinner-party conversations.  And yet...  Powell is an incredibly gifted writer.  It's a pleasure to read (or listen to) his sentences.  His characters are great, and even the conversations are enjoyable to read.

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