So Long and Thanks for All the Fish by Douglas Adams — Revisit Review

Cover: bookshop.org

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

I was hopeful, but not entirely certain, that So Long and Thanks for All the Fish would improve upon Life, the Universe and Everything. What I wasn’t expecting was for it to be my favourite Douglas Adams book since The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. My memories of listening to the audiobook of So Long and Thanks for All the Fish weren’t particularly strong, and yet, I loved it. It’s hard to pin down exactly why: So Long and Thanks for All the Fish isn’t particularly episodic, and Arthur and Ford are separated for almost the entire novel, so the two things I thought were my problems with books two and three clearly aren’t.

Her voice was the only part of her which didn’t say “Good.”

So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, Douglas Adams

It’s nice to see Arthur back on Earth, which makes me wonder if perhaps I just don’t enjoy science fiction that much. The introduction of Fenchurch as a character also works extremely well and gives Arthur someone new and delightful to bounce off of. So Long and Thanks for All the Fish is the happiest book in the series so far, which makes a refreshing change, especially from the story of the Krikkit wars.

Dwindling headily beneath them, the beaded string of lights of London — London, Arthur had to keep reminding himself, not the strangely coloured fields of Krikkit on the remote fringes of the galaxy, limited freckles of which faintly spanned the opening sky above them, but London — swayed, swaying and turning, turned.

So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, Douglas Adams

As well as being witty in Douglas Adams usual way, the prose is also descriptive and beautiful in places. I particularly enjoyed the passages relating to Arthur’s fish bowl (pictured on the cover above) and Fenchurch’s home. I would love to see an illustration of her nine-foot-high doorstep, but I wasn’t able to track one down online.

Despite being very different from the other books in the series, So Long and Thanks for All the Fish feels like a return to form, reminding me of why I like Douglas Adams’ books in the first place.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Next in the series: Mostly Harmless.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki — New Review

Cover: bookshop.org

A Tale for the Time Being was a birthday or Christmas present many years, and at least one address, ago. It was chosen for me, not something I picked up myself, and so I had no expectations. The blurb gave very little away, but the book was shortlisted for the Man Book Prize, and I always try to read the books people give me (…eventually).

When I actually started reading, A Tale for the Time Being didn’t captivate me immediately. Nao’s schoolgirl philosophical ramblings weren’t particularly charming and it was hard to get a grip on where the story was going. It wasn’t until Ruth decided to try reading Nao’s diary ‘in real time’ (one of Nao’s entries for each of Ruth’s days) that I started to get interested, though the plot was still murky.

The post office was like the village well. People lingered there, and it was where you went if you needed information.

A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki

The structure, going back and forth between Nao’s story and Ruth researching Nao’s story, worked surprisingly well, and I liked the conceit of Ruth’s footnotes explaining Nao’s specifically Japanese references. I did find the Appendices a bit troublesome, because I think I missed the instruction to go read some of them, but they also weren’t that engaging to read, even though the information was relevant.

Like The Gallows Pole, A Tale for the Time Being ended up being much darker than I anticipated, though I found Ruth Ozeki’s descriptions more visceral and thus more disturbing. It wasn’t an easy read, and the uncertain line between reality and fiction added its own sense of confusion, which made the magical elements less delightful than they might have been.

After the temple, Dad would walk me to school and we’d talk about stuff. I don’t remember exactly what, and it didn’t matter: the important thing was that we were being polite and not saying all the things that were making us unhappy, which was the only way we knew how to love each other.

A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki

This is the second book I’ve reviewed to heavily feature meditation techniques; the sections of A Tale for the Time Being that Nao spent in her grandmother’s temple were what I most enjoyed reading. (And I did appreciate that Ruth also tried sitting zazen but kept falling asleep.)

A Tale for the Time Being was an interesting book, and I think I’ll keep hold of it for at least a little while, but I don’t know if it’s a book I’d want to return to often.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Chocolat by Joanne Harris — Reread Review, Easter Edition

Hollow eggs and animal figures are carefully split open and filled with [chocolates]. Nests of spun caramel with hard-shelled sugar eggs, each topped with a triumphantly plump chocolate hen; piebald rabbits heavy with gilded almonds stand in rows, ready to be wrapped and boxed; marzipan creatures march across the shelves. The smells of vanilla essence and cognac and caramelised apple and bitter chocolate fill the house.

Chocolat, Joanne Harris

Chocolat seems the perfect book to review before the Easter weekend. Not only will Joanne Harris’s delicious descriptions of the wares of La Celeste Praline whet one’s appetite for Sunday’s chocolate eggs, but the main plot of the book concerns Vianne’s Easter chocolate festival, and Father Reynaud’s outrage that it might diminish the religious significance of the holiday.

In the years since I last read Chocolat, I’d managed to forget almost everything except the two extremes of this story. From the beginning, Vianne’s story of the bells being blessed and carrying chocolate home to their bell towers, and, from the end, Father Reynaud’s temptation in the window of Vianne’s shop.

What I’d forgotten was Vianne’s magical abilities, which came as a pleasant surprise this time around. I find stories of genuine witchcraft in the real world appropriately spell-binding, perhaps because they allow me to believe in magic, even if only in the context of the book’s world. Vianne scrying in molten chocolate is just one example of Joanna Harris’s inventiveness in bringing together fortune-telling and cooking.

The sound was open, carefree; surprised, she brought her hand to her mouth as if to check that the laughter belonged to her.

Chocolat, Joanne Harris

The characters in Chocolat are lovingly captured. Though my favourites are all among Vianne’s friends, rather than her enemies, I can’t help but notice that Joanne Harris gives even the antagonists a complexity which, sometimes, makes them sympathetic. I love Joséphine, Roux, Vianne and Armande best, but Father Reynaud is fascinating, and I was never annoyed to be given a new chapter from his perspective.

I hadn’t realised that Chocolat had sequels, but I will eagerly add them to my to-read-list, along with everything else Joanne Harris has written.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The Gallows Pole by Benjamin Myers — New Review, Bookclub Too

Cover: bookshop.org

I didn’t go looking for a second book club, but a Discord community I’m in started one up, and The Gallows Pole looked interesting enough to be worth manipulating my timetable a little to be able to fit it in. From the blurb, it sounded like a fast-paced historical crime novel which might suit my tastes for all things heist. The Gallows Pole wasn’t like that at all, but I still had a very good time with it and I’m glad B2 introduced me to it, as I probably wouldn’t have picked it up otherwise.

King David Hartley is the man’s name, said Jack Bentley. And if you don’t know it then you can’t run the woods like you say you do because everyone knows Bell Hole belongs to the Hartleys, and the moor above it and the sheep and the cows that graze them moors and the Hartleys own the sky above it too, and the kestrel and the hawk that hunt there and the hares that box there, and the clouds and the moon and the sun and everything that passes overhead.

The Gallows Pole, Benjamin Myers

Some of the things that happen in The Gallows Pole are extremely nasty (seriously, check out the content warnings before you read if you are at all squeamish!), but Benjamin Myers’ prose is always rhythmic and enthralling. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what kept drawing me in, but The Gallows Pole was written not quite like anything else I’ve read before. Deighton’s final scene is the perfect example of the juxtaposition of beautiful and horrible. Granted, it might be more difficult for readers with vivid visual imaginations or who feel the pain a character feels to get lost in the play of words next to each other, but for those of us who don’t, it really works.

Benjamin Myers makes unsympathetic characters sympathetic. Despite David Hartley’s violence, arrogance, homophobia, the reader wants to spend more time with him. Whether its the sections told from his perspective or the third-person narrative, he maintains and rewards that interest. Even lesser characters with serious flaws are still given their fair share of story. Actually sympathetic characters (like Grace) are rarely in the foreground, but Benjamin Myers uses them to good effect to keep The Gallows Pole from becoming an entirely bleak narrative.

Without you I’m certain this valley will fall fallow. The coining will die off and the men will lose their will to fight because no man will go back to the loom after having the taste of gold on his tongue.

The Gallows Pole, Benjamin Myers

It’s not surprising that The Gallows Pole won a literary award. This is a book with definite themes, of class struggle, social mobility, history. If I were going to write an essay, I’d probably begin with something about inevitability and the enduring of myth. I also appreciated the structure, how the end mirrored the beginning.

The Gallows Pole was beautifully written and cleverly constructed, but those content warnings I mention would make me hesitate to recommend it to anyone who might not know what they were getting into.

Rating: 4 out of 5.