Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams — Revisit Review

Cover: bookshop.org

Previous in the series: So Long and Thanks for All the Fish.

Finally, I’ve reached the end of what I’ve personally dubbed The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe — all five books written by Douglas Adams. I’ve been looking forward to Mostly Harmless; I have an absurd and lasting fondness for the section which describes Arthur Dent as The Sandwich Maker. My vague memories of the rest of the book mostly involved Random and the new avian incarnation of the titular guide to the galaxy.

Starting Mostly Harmless I was pleasantly surprised. While I’d forgotten Ford’s and Tricia’s plots, I found them and the writing just as engaging as I found So Long and Thanks for All the Fish. Fenchurch’s complete and abrupt disappearance was disappointing, and made me wonder what the point of including her in the series had actually been, but Douglas Adams clearly set out to write a random and inexplicable universe, so it’s not as much of a problem as it might be in another set of books.

What King Antwelm had assumed was that what everybody wanted, all other things being equal, was to be happy and enjoy themselves and have the best possible time together.

Mostly Harmless, Douglas Adams

Everything ambles along quite pleasantly, which is what I love about these books. This time around, I empathised particularly with the Grebulons living on Rupert, having forgotten what their mission is and spending all their time watching television. However, I don’t think I’ll turn to astrology to figure out the answer — which we all know is 42.

In the afternoon, she got up and prowled around restlessly, not certain what to do with the rest of her day, or indeed the rest of her life.

Mostly Harmless, Douglas Adams

As the final book in the series, Mostly Harmless feels a little incomplete. Douglas Adams writes nothing about what Zaphod is doing, or what’s happening with the president of the galaxy. While the ending, if I’m reading it correctly, ties up the stories of Arthur, Tricia, Trillian, Ford and Random, it leaves a vast number of questions unanswered. Maybe that’s the point, though, in which case I can’t be mad about it. And besides, I know that And Another Thing… is somewhere in my future.

With the exception of Life, the Universe and Everything, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed revisiting these books, and I’ll definitely be reading them again.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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.

Life, the Universe and Everything by Douglas Adams — Revisit Review

Cover: bookshop.org

Previous in the series: The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.

Disappointingly, my enjoyment of each book in The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series is a little lower than the one before. Life, the Universe and Everything has some nice set-pieces, like Arthur learning to fly, Trillian flirting with a Thunder God and the Bistromathic drive, but seems to lack the sparkling wordplay that I enjoyed in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Nothing made me laugh out loud, and that’s a real shame.

“All right!” bellowed Thor, like an enraged bull (or in fact like an enraged Thunder God, which is a great deal more impressive), and did so.

Life, the Universe and Everything, Douglas Adams

Part of the problem is that the gang are separated for much of the book. Arthur doesn’t get the chance to bounce off Trillian or Zaphod until the very end, and Ford spends much of the novel sulking so doesn’t offer much in the way of entertainment. Life, the Universe and Everything is also less episodic than the previous books. Almost the entire plot is taken up with the story of the Krikkit wars. There’s nothing wrong with that plot, exactly, but there’s no variety.

“We came to find you,” said Trillian, deliberately not keeping the disappointment out of her voice.

Life, the Universe and Everything, Douglas Adams

If I hadn’t experienced these novels before, as audiobooks, this might be where I’d stop. As it is, I know at least one piece is coming up that I really enjoy, so I’m going to continue on at least until I reach Arthur as the sandwich maker. Hopefully it’ll be worth it!

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Next in the series: So Long and Thanks for All the Fish.

Charlotte Street by Danny Wallace — Reread Review

After reading Yes Man at an impressionable age — and loving it enough to still give it four stars a decade later, I fell into the habit of buying any Danny Wallace book I happened to come across. Charlotte Street is very much in the same style: man who has lately ended a relationship and lost some of his verve for life embarks on a weird quest which, intentionally or otherwise, helps bring it back. Granted, Charlotte Street is fiction, rather than autobiography, but the bones are still the same.

We had a rocky start where maybe I was a bit grumpy, but you know I had my reasons, and a lot of the time that was down to the Jezynowka, and now, just as we’re starting to properly click, I end up on a bench with an exciting girl and I get to the bit where I know you’re not going to like me any more.

Charlotte Street, Danny Wallace

I would say that Charlotte Street isn’t as funny. I actually found recently-heartbroken Jason quite annoying to begin with. Fortunately, the book acknowledges this, and it definitely picks up as the minor characters surrounding Jason get fleshed out with their own hopes and dreams and problems. I particularly enjoyed the relationship between Jason and his former pupil, Matt.

The people around you are you. They share your history. They can even write it with you. And when you lose one, there’s no doubt you lose some of yourself, however they’re lost.

Charlotte Street, Danny Wallace

The quest at the heart of Charlotte Street (to use a set of photographs to track down their owner), bears some resemblance to The Lost Letters of William Woolf. Both main characters fantasises about what the mystery woman they’ve never properly met will be like. Jason, though, at least acknowledges these as fantasies. He outright says that the woman in the photographs could be a nazi, for all he actually knows about her. This self-awareness made me much more sympathetic to him than I was to William, who never seems to consider that the woman he imagines might not be real.

Once I got past the difficult beginning, I enjoyed Charlotte Street. It didn’t make me laugh out loud like Yes Man does, but I did chuckle once or twice, and I appreciated the more fictionalised narrative.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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 Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams — Revisit Review

The first time I ever experienced The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, it was the radio show. One of my parents presented the tapes to me on a very long, very boring drive through Oman. I’d never heard of it (though, it would later turn out that my headmaster had read an extract from it, though I believe he presented the story as his own). It didn’t seem, on the face of it, like something that I would enjoy. I wasn’t into space things, and at that age, some of the British things my parents found funny flew over my head. As I mentioned, though, it really was a very long drive, so I ended up putting it on out of desperation. And it was hilarious! I knew as soon as Arthur Dent descended into the basement of the planning office that I was going to have a great time.

‘You know,’ said Arthur, ‘it’s at times like this, when I’m trapped in a vogon airlock with a man from Betelgeuse, and about to die of asphyxiation in deep space, that I really wish I’d listened to what my mother told me when I was young.’
‘Why, what did she tell you?’
‘I don’t know, I didn’t listen.’

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

During the intervening years, I experienced The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in other ways. I listened to the audiobooks, I watched the film, I listened to the third instalment of the radio series. I even went to a live revival of the radio series. Somehow, the one thing I never did was sit down and read the book, so it was exciting to revisit the story in a new form.

That said, most of my favourite bits of the reading experience are close to word-for-word the bits I’d mark as my favourite in the radio series. I know that later books in the ‘trilogy’ diverge more, whereas this book is pretty close to the original, so perhaps that’s to be expected. It’s hard to say whether the bits that are laugh-out-loud funny are because I can hear the voices in my head.

‘This must be Thursday,’ said Arthur to himself, sinking low over his beer. ‘I never could get the hang of Thursdays.’

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

The Hitchhiker’s Guide was a fun and familiar read, with a few moments that took me right back to studying ‘Theory of Knowledge’ with Nickie. I think I’ll have more to say about the other books in the series. For now, the radio series is great, but if you can’t listen to that, read this!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Next in the series: The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.