The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams — Revisit Review

Previous in the series: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

One of the advantages of actually reading Douglas Adams’ series book by book (and with a gap between each) is that I can form my opinion on each book individually, rather than simply knowing that I enjoy the overall amorphous series. The beginning of The Restaurant at the End of the Universe lacks the verve of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, though perhaps that’s because none of it was new to me. The total perspective vortex is a clever idea, but actually reading about Zaphod’s journey there was a little underwhelming.

Why should I make anything up? Life’s bad enough as it is without wanting to invent any more of it.

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Douglas Adams

The section of the book that shines is the titular Restaurant at the End of the Universe: Milliways. Not only are the gang back together, but Ford’s drunken antics are amusing and vividly call to mind the excellent vocal performances of the radio version. The captain of the Golgafrincham B-Ark reminded me of a character in Tanz der Vampire, both of them preferring a bath to almost any other way of passing time.

It is folly to say you know what is happening to other people. Only they know, if they exist. They have their own universes of their eyes and ears.

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Douglas Adams

It’s safe to say that I enjoyed my time in Douglas Adams’ universe. It particularly made me smile to be reminded of Hotblack Desiato and my astonishment when I walked past an estate agent in Camden of the same name. The prose is, always, perfectly quotable, even if there aren’t as many insights for me in this book as there are in some of the others. There are certain ticks of language that Douglas Adams uses which I’m sure influence the way I write and speak — it makes me wonder why nothing more recent has had the same effect.

Their songs are on the whole very simple and mostly follow the familiar theme of boy-being meets girl-being beneath a silvery moon, which then explodes for no adequately explored reason.

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Douglas Adams

I’m looking forward to the remaining books in the series, especially those which have material not covered in the radio version.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Next in the series: Life, the Universe and Everything.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett — Reread Review


Having not read The Secret Garden since I was in my early teens, I’d forgotten quite how much the book focuses on my favourite thing: character development. Mary begins the novel as a demanding, antisocial brat who has no idea how to make herself, or anyone else, happy. Not only that, but the narrative likes to explicitly point out how much she’s changing. The Secret Garden, like What Katy Did and Pollyanna, is one of those books that makes me want to be a better person.

Four good things had happened to her, in fact, since she came to Misselthwaite Manor, she had felt as if she had understood the robin and that he had understood her; she had run in the wind until her blood had grown warm; she had been healthily hungry for the first time in her life; and she had found out what it was to be sorry for someone. She was getting on.

The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett

And yet, despite the fact that my mum was an extremely keen gardener, I have no desire to go out and get myself ‘a bit of earth’ — even if such a thing were possible, living in London. And Colin’s belief in ‘the Magic [of positive thinking]’ comes across a little too much like The Secret with its law of attraction and vision boards. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, Frances Hodgson Burnett presumably wanted to write a compelling story, and not a self-help guide, so the fact that there’s little concrete advice to take away from The Secret Garden shouldn’t be a mark against it.

Dickon made the stimulating discovery that in the wood in the park outside the garden where Mary had first found him piping to the wild creatures, there was a deep little hollow where you could build a sort of tiny oven with stones and roast potatoes and eggs in it. Roasted eggs were a previously unknown luxury, and very hot potatoes with salt and fresh butter in them were fit for a woodland king — besides being deliciously satisfying.

The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett

One detail I really enjoyed on this reread was the character of Susan Sowerby — I’d forgotten that Dickon was Martha’s brother, and that their mother was featured at all. She’s a fabulous maternal figure, and I particularly liked that even Mrs Medlock had respect for her.

The Secret Garden would be a really good book to read in the spring. Even in summer, however, I did grow my very first blue rose in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, so clearly the Magic does work, at least a little bit.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Jade City by Fonda Lee — New Review, Bookclub Edition

He could ditch Sampa later, after he’d gotten what he needed.

Jade City, Fonda Lee

As ‘fantasy kung-fu film’ was not immediately a selling point for me, Jade City is a book I wouldn’t have read were it not for book club. Despite that, the opening chapter made me reconsider my position. I love heists and stories with lots of betrayal, and Jade City seemed to promise both. The prose was easy to read, too, which hasn’t always been the case with book club books. Even so, I did find sometimes find my attention slipping from passages primarily concerned with world-building or backstory.

The characters were sympathetic and interesting — I particularly enjoyed Anden and Wen, though I wondered if Anden’s LGBTQ+ identity was a bit tacked-on. It added a little to his subplot, but it felt like a wasted opportunity to explore it in more depth. Perhaps that’s just a casualty of Jade City being definitely an ensemble piece, rather than focused tightly on any one character.

His enemy’s jade aura was dark, dense, and molten, like lava flowing inexorably closer, building in heat. It exuded a calm, unrelenting malice directed unmistakably at him, and as she could no doubt Perceive him where he sat, the intensity of their long psychic stare was such that Hilo felt there was almost nothing left to say by the time Ayt entered the room a minute later.

Jade City, Fonda Lee

Plot-wise, for me, Jade City was a little lacklustre. I found myself questioning who wanted what, and whether I particularly cared whether or not they got it. This was most apparent in Lan’s and Hilo’s plots. Hilo wanted revenge, obviously, but for something I knew he didn’t have all the facts about, which made it somewhat difficult to care. On this score, Shae’s plot was more compelling.

I enjoyed some of the small details — especially the way Fonda Lee handled luck, making it into a supposed force in her world made certain instances of narrative convenience much more interesting. Overall, Jade City was a good foundation, but it left me wanting something a bit deeper.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfield — Reread Review

As an adaptation of Pride & Prejudice, I knew going in that I was going to enjoy the story of Eligible. All the traditional elements are there: overbearing and hysterical Mrs Bennet, dry Mr Bennet, obliging Jane and giggling Lydia. So the real question for this review, then, is whether or not I liked the modernisation. And, actually, I’m not entirely sure that I did.

Some bits were clever! Instead of walking to Netherfield when Jane is ill, Liz has no car and so runs to the nearest hospital when Jane is taken in — which, of course, still has the same result of Caroline and Darcy looking at her as if she has two heads and a muddy petticoat. But other elements were modernised in ways I didn’t really understand. I won’t spoil it, but the conclusion to Mary Bennet’s plot line was particularly head-scratching.

‘I don’t suppose that any of you can appreciate the terror a man might feel being so outnumbered,’ Mr Bennet said. ‘I often weep, and there are only six of you.’

Eligible, Curtis Sittenfield

I can’t honestly say I liked the characters, either. Liz is a journalist, rather than a lover of literature, and I’m not sure she picks up a book from one end of Eligible to the next. Instead, she is noted as a gossip who asks people startling questions about themselves. It’s more modern, but it also makes me like her less. Although I enjoyed seeing what the updates were, and Liz’s relationship with her mother, I didn’t get a lot else out of this book.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

The Floating Theatre by Martha Conway — Reread Review

Sometimes now I wonder whether, like swimming, when you first submerge yourself in a new environment, you lose some of the power of your senses — your ears clog, you shut your eyes — as you try to get used to it. I was learning a new trade and learning to live with people in a way I’d never done before. Most of my thoughts were focused on succeeding in these two endeavours.

The Floating Theatre, Martha Conway

The first time I read The Floating Theatre, I think I’d read a few other books set at the same time pretty recently, and so this one didn’t stand out to me. Revisiting it on its own, I thoroughly enjoyed it! May stands out as a kind of character I haven’t previously encountered in historical fiction, one who is probably neurodiverse even if she obviously can’t apply that word to herself. I thought Martha Conway handled it much better than Frances Maynard in The Seven Imperfect Rules of Elvira Carr.

As a child I had the strange fancy that darkness was more honest than daylight, that the shrubs and trees and the creatures that lived among them were more themselves at night, and that the ashy shade of the grass was in fact its true colour rather than the bright hue it took on during the day.

The Floating Theatre, Martha Conway

What I most appreciated was the story of May getting out from under her cousin’s thumb, building a new life for herself on the eponymous Floating Theatre. When the narrative took a turn towards May ferrying slaves across the river from southern states to northern ones, I kind of didn’t want her to. Even though, obviously, it was a noble thing for her to be doing. I’m not sure whether that’s because Martha Conway so successfully made me feel May’s resentment of her life being turned upside down, or if I’m naturally resistant to change in a similar way, or if I just wanted to enjoy the story I was enjoying. Either way, when I took a step back, I felt pretty conflicted about my own feelings, which I think was very effective!

The romance subplot built up nicely, and I particularly enjoyed getting to experience May’s first encounter with enjoying fiction. On the other hand, the end didn’t have quite the emotional punch that I feel it should have done. Still, given I remembered nothing about this book, I’m glad that I kept it, and that I decided to give it another try!

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.