Tuesday, 13 September 2016

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

Douglas Adams The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (1980)
I reviewed the first one about a month ago. In fact the main reason I hunted the first one down was because I found The Restaurant at the End of the Universe in a branch of Half-Price, and a copy with the proper cover no less, and it would have been weird reading book two once again without first reminding myself of its predecessor; and - as already stated - it was in part a journey of discovery, namely discovering whether I'd been wrong about Adams all these years; and if I'm to subject myself to something I know I'll probably dislike, I reasoned, then it's going to be with books sporting the proper covers or not at all - the proper covers being those dating from when I read this stuff first time round, as opposed to some of the self-consciously wacky crimes against design in which Adams has since been wrapped - cartoon comedy planets blowing raspberries just in case anyone mistakes this stuff for Stephen Baxter.

To recap, my problem with Adams is that he was never as funny as claimed, and whilst his writing was fine for radio or television, it's just not that great applied to a novel, or at least to these novels. I mean it's not actually terrible, but these books really don't belong in any of those balls-achingly predictable lists of fifty science-fiction classics you must read.

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe suffers from the same problems as the first part of the story, namely that it's a series of static scenes in which a bunch of guys stand around passing wry commentary upon some absurd aspect of their situation before a magic wand plot device whisks them off to the next set piece for more of the same. There are three women in the whole thing. Trillian doesn't get to say much, whilst the other two are introduced as love interest on the second to last page and are typically a bit dumb, which probably isn't too surprising given that the central part of the book all seems a bit Jeremy Clarkson with hindsight - chaps lusting after sporty spaceships in the restaurant parking lot followed by excessively loud rock band jokes, Led Zeppelin blowing up planets and so on and so forth; and all held together by a glue of purportedly witty observation which, as a number of people have since pointed out to me, is pretty much dollar store P.G. Wodehouse. I say, old chap, I hope you won't think me impolite but I can't help noticing that you appear to have parked your spacecraft atop my greenhouse, and I wouldn't mind but I was rather hoping to make the rounds with the jolly old flit gun at some point this afternoon blah blah blah...

Yet, for all it's flaws and annoyances, I kind of enjoyed this one. It may simply be nostalgia for the first time I read it, but it seems less laboured than the previous instalment. Also, it has a fairly satisfyingly rounded conclusion, and so much so that it feels like these first two volumes really should be considered a single novel so as to allow the positives to cancel or at least balance out the worst of the clunk. Unless it really is my imagination, my guess is that Adams was simply a better writer by the time he sat down to pull this one together, so while it remains a radio script shoehorned between two covers, the shoehorning isn't so laboured, and there are passages without the author digging you in the ribs and asking if you get it every three seconds.

It's still some way short of being the classic everyone seems to think it is, and Terry Pratchett did this sort of thing so much better, and six times nine isn't forty-two last time I looked - unless that's Adams admitting that the cartoon philosophies bolted onto his narrative are genuinely meaningless - but The Restaurant at the End of the Universe is certainly readable. He really should have left it at just the two books.

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