Saturday, January 8, 2011

Restaurant at the End of the Universe (review)

At some point this year I plan to write about something that's not a review, but for now, here's another book I've recently read, and something I can freely rant about.

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe - Douglas Adams

Sometimes you get books that are popular that are one of those iconic novels that people rant and rave about like it's the best thing ever. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series is kind of like this. And while I feel bad ripping on books that get a lot of people reading (especially when the author isn't around to defend himself), that is the case this time around.

For those that don't know, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe is the second book in Adams' five part sci-fi comedy series, of which 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' is the first part and the most familiar. I read the first book some time last year. I'd seen the 2005 film adaptation some years before and I quite enjoyed it. So I bought the first book and read it in a couple days and I quite enjoyed it. So I bought the second book and started it and fell flat. And I tried a few times since then, each time only getting a few pages in before asking "why bother?" and failing to come up with a compelling answer. I think it's the same sort of thing that stopped me about half way through the Great Gatsby and about 20-30 pages in to the Catcher in the Rye. Both supposed classics, both books that people love to death and tell me that I too should love.

But I committed myself to giving this book another chance, as I hope to give another chance to Gatsby and Catcher in the Rye at some point this year. You could argue that I've got the mindset stuck in me that I'm not going to enjoy this book, but for the amount of times I've tried and the book has failed to impress me, I think I've got grounds to base my opinions upon. Sure, I may have built up a bit of a grudge for the book, but all things aside, I finished the book in about a week, I think. It's a short book, but that first part took some real chewing on, to make it past the barrier of not giving up.

I guess I should talk some positives on the book, so as to not completely write it off as a book to avoid at all costs. It's got a playful exhuberance to it, a humour and strange logic to it that is very much in the same vein of Alice in Wonderland. The title " The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (aka: Alice in Wonderland in Space)" would not entirely be out of place. I'd probably enjoy it more if I didn't read so much weird books already. Weirder and more abrasive. Because I like my books to have a bit of grit, a bit of punch, a bit of edge to them. This book is something the child in me would love to read. I mean, I did read the first book before my weird fiction collection got too wild.

Another thing I like about this book is that it's got some interesting ideas going on. It's got its clever-yet-absurd twisted space logic going on, it's got moments of really well thought out ideas that seem to click together quite well. But I get the feeling that these ideas are too compressed, too thinly veiled to gather any momentum, and here is where I feel the book falls into its first major pitfall. It's a fast paced sci-fi absurdist adventure, yet it bounces from plot point to plot point with a nonchalance that is simply frustrating. Why do I care that these characters are currently hurling towards a sun in a(nother) stolen spaceship? Oh wait, I don't. And when Adams tries to explain some of his ideas, he structures them in the most awkward and clunky ways that not only is their meaning lost, but it reads really awkward. The prose is so inconsistent that the wit is often lost to boring and poorly phrased chunks of texts. It's like it's been left up to the reader to turn a blind eye to those numerous instances and skimming through the book as a light afternoon read.

I guess that's all the book really is. Something you just read to switch the brain off and coast along on the strange and surreal imagery. Sure, it'd work a lot better if the prose were fixed up a bit, but it's not a serious book. It's just something you read for some light-hearted fun.

And now I'm posed with a serious conundrum. Do I buy the third book now? For those of you who have read the series, is the next book any better, or is it more or less the same sort of thing?


  1. Yes, finish the series. I loved it all but yeah, Restaurant was perhaps the weakest book.

  2. Ok, when I get the time in between reading the ridiculously good books on my shelf, I'll pick up book number three and give it a shot.

    Oh, and another thing, I bought 'Lights Out in Wonderland' the other day. I remember you telling me about the author, and, well, the start of the book really impressed me. So that's one of a short handful of books I'm planning to read soon.

    Oh, and say hi to Barcelona for me.