Posted by: Natalie | September 16, 2010

Hitch-hike with Douglas Adams

Yes, I have finally finished both these books – please don’t take my slow reading to mean anything other than a struggling to find morning reading time. The new routine has taken away my lazy hour of reading in a morning – I still endeavour to get at least thirty minutes, but this has only happened on three occasions thus far. Must try harder.

I decided to review the two books as a whole as, having watched the BBC series, I realised it was the pair together that completed the narrative I knew. It seemed to make more logical sense. But logic may as well have been thrown to the wind as these stories, on the surface, seemed the most random and illogical that I have ever experienced. But in a good way!

Very few books have me laughing out loud and causing people to look at me; crying yes, but never laughing. I never really choose comedic plots; I suppose we could suggest Austin along these lines, but I like to think of her novels as ‘witty’ and ‘cynical’ in her view of society as opposed to being a literary comedienne. I have also dabbled a touch with Ben Elton’s writing but quickly got bored of his style. No, not really my genre and I never took the time to think why. Until now.

Arthur Dent in the BBC's adaptation played by Simon Jones

I found The Hitchhiker’s Guide and The Restaurant at the end of the Universe both very entertaining, and I did inadvertently burst out laughing on many occasions, not taking one moment to think of those around me. They completely challenged my thinking and opened my eyes to a strand that many are obsessively devoted to. I could see the light hearted, and very typically, English sense of humour – dry, cynical and forever pessimistic, which I absolutely loved. It was brilliantly crafted through subtle dialogue and the written version of knowing-winks and nods. I adored the depiction of Arthur as a very middle-class, dithering naysayer, desperately missing his home and cups of tea with him never quite realising why. I would very much wonder if our foreign companions would derive as much from the humour as we British? I simply don’t know, but would like to read some opinions.

Douglas Adams also had a wonderful turn of phrase that had me bookmarking pages, just to review his sentence structure. So cleverly written, not just with interest, but grammatically beautiful! You might think this an odd thing to say, but the author’s play with words is like none that I have read before.

Douglas Adams who sadly died far too young in 2001

Adams’ writing style fits perfectly with the thoughtful play on philosophy that comes with these tales. For a long time I completely missed the point of whole thing – I possibly still am, as I end a little bewildered and contemplating all manner of confusing things. It appears on the surface, as I stated at the beginning, as completely illogical – just a random series of events happening to a very random group of people without any connection or meaning. There seemed no real point to any of it which I found highly frustrating. But as deep philosophical questions are asked (often with very silly answers) a greater understanding unfolded. Adams was not simply challenging his characters, but his readers too. He was pointing out the patently obvious and asking the questions ‘why’, ‘how’ and ‘what’s the point’. He was making me question the very existence of existence, time and purpose. But in a way that completely mocked people who question these things to begin with.

I could be completely wrong; there may never have been such an intention. The Hitchhiker’s guide and its four part trilogy (no I have not gone mad, this is its USP!) may simply have been written as a series of stories born from a very successful radio show. It could just be big boys playing around the fantastical. But I think there is more to it than that. It is a shame that not all of Adams’ humorous writing style makes it into the BBC series, but I shall endeavour to find recordings of the original radio programmes as I hear they out strip everything else Hitch Hiker related.

Reading to here, you may think this is yet another all out glowing review by Miss Crawford, and to some extent you would be correct. I stand by everything I have written above and I now believe I understand why Douglas Adams was cast as some minor deity by a mass cult following, but there was still something lacking for me. The emphasis in these books is very much on the sci-fi, humour and boys. They didn’t have enough weight for me, not enough descriptive detail, no real sense of direction or feelings of peril. I came away thinking they were simply ‘very pleasant reads’ and a bit too silly. In other words, a ‘nice’ distraction. For me, books need to completely transport me and allow me to absorb every micro detail of a world which is not mine. They need to evoke emotional responses and grip me in every sense possible (other than being literally stuck to it, obviously). They need to let me in entirely. Sadly, neither book one nor two did this. I constantly felt as if I was skimming on the surface of something that could be deep and complex and frightening, but it never came real. Despite the heavy philosophical leanings, the story itself was rather shallow and empty.

But I did enjoy them and I am glad I have begun to dip into the more light hearted. I will definitely be reading the final books: Life, the Universe and Everything, So Long and Thanks for all the Fish and Mostly Harmless (I believe Eoin Colfer has been commissioned to write a 6th, And Another Thing) and I look forward to reading The Salmon of Doubt, also by Adams. But I don’t think any of them will be books I rave over despite enjoying. I love Adams’ writing style immensely, his stories just seem to lack a little oomph!

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Responses

  1. What a co-incidence, I’m listening to the radio series at the moment! You can borrow the CDs if you like. You need to hear The Guide as performed by Peter Jones! Maybe some of the things you found lacking in the novels are a result of the trans-media adaptation, with thin description being carried over from the radio?

    I think Adams is particularly good at digression as a storytelling tool. In the best sense of the word, he’s a stylist. He reminds me a little of Wodehouse (though he doesn’t plot quite as well!) in his facility with the nicely turned phrase.

    I know what you mean about the ‘boys story’ aspects, though (at least on the radio) Adams seems to be aware of that as a science fiction convention. Trillian’s a bit of a cipher but she does work well as a wry commentator of the boys’ bickering.

    Don’t panic!

    • Hee! That’s so funny! Would love to borrow the CDs at some future point if you would be so kind?! I have only heard wonderful things about it – all those who have compared radio to book to tv all say that the finest was the first incarnation. I think part of my problem is that my brain finds ‘alternate worlds’ a little hard to picture and I need the author to plug the gaps. Perhaps in this instance the audio will do the same.

      Thanks for the comment Nick, hope you and your lovely lady are well,

      Nat x

  2. I remember hearing the radio series when they were first broadcast – they were on way past my bedtime, so I had to huddle under the sheets with my ear pressed against the radio. To me the books never matched up, although they made a nice memento in the days before recordings were available. There was some lovely stuff in the second series, set on a planet where civilization had been wiped out by a surplus of shoe shops, but that never made it into the books, and in its place there is some desperately weak material.

    Oddly enough, I did quite like the film; I thought I’d hate it, but Martin Freeman made a good Arthur Dent, and it had the happy ending which I think the story deserved all along.

    • Hi Phillip, thanks for reading and leaving such a lovely comment! I’d like to still think that children now are sneaking books and radios under the duvet late at night, but I suspect most bedtimes are later than mine as it is! What a lovely image of you rebelling!

      I think Martin Freeman would be the only reason I would bring myself to watch the film – having read the books now I can picture him perfectly. Had Alan Rickman been in human form then he would be my sole reason regardless!

      Hopefully I can pinch Nick’s CDs (the lovely Squeezegutalley – definitely a blog you should have a look at) and educate myself properly. Its not me if I don’t do things the wrong way around.

      Take care,

      Nat x

  3. Sadly that was my only act of teenage rebellion!

    The strange thing about the film was that the people I’d thought would be great, like Alan Rickman, were terrible – he sounded nothing like Marvin, just seemed to be doing a bad John Major impression – and the people I couldn’t really imagine taking over those much-loved roles, like Martin Freeman and Mos Def, were really good. There’s a nice Clangers reference too, where the improbablility drive briefly turns them all into knitting.

  4. I love this whole series and was happy to find that Eoin Colfer’s finale (released last year or earlier this year) kept a lot of the silliness and “depth” of the original. Glad you’re taking the time to experience it. After all, there’s nothing wrong with laughing and contemplating the absurdities of life, the universe and everything, now is there?

    • I think for that distracting purpose, they are fab. Everyone needs a little silliness in their life! I am particularly looking forward to reading ‘The Salmon of Doubt’ just because I think it has the most amazing title!

      Hope you are well Toni, thanks for still reading!!

      Nat x


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