Told After Supper by Jerome K. Jerome is one of those books I dip into every now and again. Jerome's writing is deceptively effortless and his comic timing is immaculate.
Jerome's skill derives from his ability to put us in the protagonist's shoes and enable us to quickly visualise what he sees. His words make us feel we are the hapless raconteur, and we share his embarrassment. By varying the length of his sentences, and by clever syntax, we are given suspense, and an idea of the main character's ramblings.
Jerome is a cheeky virtuoso, a master storyteller who plays with us, the reader, while telling us he's doing so.
Look at this brief excerpt, in which he describes his alcohol-fueled efforts at telling a ghost story to fellow guests on Christmas eve. It's simply superb. And superbly simple.
"I started relating a most interesting anecdote, but was somewhat
surprised to observe, as I went on, that nobody was paying the
slightest attention to me whatever. I thought this rather rude of
them at first, until it dawned upon me that I was talking to myself
all the time, instead of out aloud, so that, of course, they did
not know that I was telling them a tale at all, and were probably
puzzled to understand the meaning of my animated expression and
eloquent gestures. It was a most curious mistake for any one to
make. I never knew such a thing happen to me before."