Book Review: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

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Published: 1979

If you mention this book to your average British bookworm their eyes light up and they get super excited – similar sight when someones mentions Harry Potter to me. You can tell their are avid fans. In fact, this book is a prominent series in British popular culture, and as well as becoming a international phenomenon. This is just the first book in a 6 part series, it’s got a radio show (thats actually how it started!), TV series, stage shows, video games, comic books and most recently a film starring Martin Freeman. The world is positively obsessed!

Sadly, I cannot say I fall into that category. Trust me, no one is more upset about this news then I am. I just did not find it entertaining, funny or prolific in any sense of the word. There were several factors for disliking this book, and I’ve managed to narrow it down to two things; characters and theme of absurdity.

I struggled with the fact that all the characters were quite annoying, meaning I wasn’t really rooting for anyone. You have Arthur, the main protagonist, who is meant to represent the human race and I believe the reader as well, that is just shocked for most of the novel and confused (as are we!). Then there is his vague and preoccupied best-friend alien Ford Prefect, who occasionally answers Arthur’s questions and seems a bit on edge for most of the book. He’s meant to represent the nomad journalist longing for adventure and wanting to update his guide to the universe. There is also a depressed robot (who I probably relate to most on this book while reading it), an arrogant president of the Imperial Galactic Government, Zaphod Beeblebrox (slightly more intelligent than Trump). I understand that most of his characters are trying to prove a certain point i.e. Vogons are a stab at the beaurocrats while the mice are meant to be a higher intelligent version of humans, etc but the author wrote the book made these characters like subjects in a lab rather than characters that you can sympathise or get to know better.

The other struggle for me was the theme of absurdity that forms the basis of this book. I understand that this is Douglas Adams just poking fun at the government, establishments  and the absurd world we call home. It just really didn’t fly with me, if anything it agitated me as it was hard to follow the plot and get into the book. What kind of absurdities do you say? Take the entire page written about the importance of towels. Yes, you’ve read it correctly:

A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value…more importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. (22)

I guess he was trying to be funny here? Just not really a laugh out loud moment for me. There are other things, that aren’t only absurd, but that happen randomly, without any cause of meaning. Take Ford Prefect’s question to Arthur whether he was busy, when he was trying to stop the bulldozer from destroying his home:

‘Ford! Hello, how are you?’

‘Fine,’ said Ford, ‘look are you busy?’

‘Am I busy?’ exclaimed Arthur. ‘Well, I’ve just got all these bulldozers and things to lie in front go because they’ll knock my house down if I don’t, but other than that…well, no not especially, why?’ (11)

What a hilarious and unexpected response! I could just hear the audience laughing in the background. I can tell that these are meant to be funny, and highlight the absurdity of what was happening but I kept just looking at how many pages were left in the chapter and hoping it would get better I’m afraid to say!

There are many contradictions throughout the novel as well. Such as mice ruling the human race, instead of them being our lab rats. Or the name of the ship that Zophad commands is called Heart of Gold, implying someone that is caring and nice, which is a contradiction because he’s a devious, narcissistic and irresponsible fellow. The fact that he’s the president of the Imperial Galactic Government just shows us how Douglas Adams views government officials and how manipulated the government body is. Most of the other characters and machines that they encounter in the galaxy are all selfish individuals who are pretending to be all sorts of things if it benefits them.

Douglas Adams is also trying to test our understanding of intelligence, by shattering our view that humans are the more intelligent life forms on the planet, and instead declaring that dolphins and mice are actually the more superior species in the galaxy, for the dolphins knew about the destruction of Earth and tried to, unsuccessfully to warn the humans, and we learn that it was the mice who had actually commissioned Earth to be made:

‘Earthman, the planet that you lived on was commissioned, paid for, and run by mice…they are merely the protrusion into our dimensions of vast hyper-intelligent pan-dimentional beings.’ (138)

I know this comedy/science fiction novel is meant to be a satire and a stab at establishment and authority but I just couldn’t get into it at all. The most fun I had was actually writing this review and looking back and trying to analyse some of the passage and their meaning. He’s a brilliant guy and I applaud him for trying something a bit different with this novel, I just can’t say I enjoyed the journey particularly. Maybe if I read it a third time…

Q: What do you think of this book? I’d love for someone to shine the light on it for me!

 

 

Book Review: Beartown by Fredrik Backman

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Published: 2016

I was certainly not expecting this book to be as good as it was! I normally don’t like to get too swept up in current reading trends but this one was pleasantly surprising.

Plot wise, not much happens, in fact I can probably summarise it as a hockey team going to play the final of their league and being desperate to win. What’s more appealing about this book is the characters that we are introduced to, and character development they experience throughout the book. We are introduced to over 10 main or supporting characters and the author dips from one character to the next, each time revealing something new we didn’t know about their personality or past. I think by doing this it enables him to explore such a wide range of power themes and societal issues, from sexual assault, community, diversity, betrayal, sport, loss, injustice, loyalty, love, and family just to name a few.

The characters are all varying ages, personalities and stages of life which makes this extra interesting and applicable to a wide audience, from young adults, to teenagers to older adults. Even though it’s a third person narration, you still feel like you get to the bottom of their feelings and biggest fears. Like with Kira for example:

“Not a second has passed since she had children without her feelings like a bad mother For everything. For not understanding, for being impatient, for not knowing everything, for not making better packed lunches, for still wanting more out of like than just being a mother. She hears other women in Beartown sigh behind her back: ‘Yes, but she has a full-time job, you know. Can you imagine?’ No matter how much you try to let works like that run off you, a few of them stick.” (75)

You really get to the core of the characters and then see them behave and take different actions in general settings is fascinating, for you better understand why they make the choices their do and demonstrates how single actions can mark and affect each of the characters differently. Likewise, it highlights the fact that even the characters that seem the most most well-off and successful have their demons and issues. For example, the General Manager of the team, who played in the NHL and achieved some level of success still feels vulnerable and inadequate as a man and father:

“Peter stands next to him shivering, full of the sense of inadequacy that only afflicts a man of a certain generation when he watches another man from the same generation repair his wife’s car. Hog straightens up and spares Peter any technical jargon.” (121)

Then there is the fact that author chooses to tackle a tremendous heavy topic of sexual assault. I don’t want to reveal and spoil too much, but for any author to tackle that topic and explore it from different perspectives of a the victim, the accuser and the surrounding community has made this book a fascinating, albeit a somber read. I felt it particularly poignant and relevant as I was reading this book just when Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh were going through the senate hearing.

I can’t say that these themes are particularly unique to this author, but he manages to engross us into the issues in a way other authors have not done – the writing style is completely captivating. You can hear the narrators voice throughout the book, coming out of the pages and says what he wants to say without shielding behind the characters. For example:

“Sooner or later, almost every discussion about the way people behave towards one another ends up becoming an argument about ‘human nature’. That’s never been an easy thing for biology teachers to explain: on the one hand, our entire species survived because we stuck together and cooperated, but on the other hand we developed because the strongest individuals always thrived at the expense of the weak. So we always end up arguing about where the boundaries should be drawn.” (334)

These little moments when the author speaks to you directly are always linked to the novel’s story perfectly, it feels like the novel is there to backup his theories on human nature and community. It’s absolutely fascinating! If you can’t tell already I am well pleased with this book and I could not put it down once I started reading it.

When I explained this novel to the flight stewardess on my way home she said it sounded  very similar to Friday Night Lights (which I have never read so can’t say for sure!) but from reading more about Friday Night Lights, although some of the main themes overlap the journey and writing style is very different – much more sombre in Beartown.

Q: Have you ever read a book that you really enjoyed, but likewise made you sad/heartbroken after reading it?