This is the sequel to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I originally read the first four books in this “trilogy” when I was a teenager. (I haven’t read book five Mostly Harmless yet, but it’s on its way to me as I type this.) I’ve seen the BBC TV adaptation as well as the 2005 movie version; I enjoyed them both. I decided to re-read this book because I wanted some “light” reading. I remembered the comedy and general bonkers-ness of this series and approached it from that perspective. What surprised me on this re-read was how profound it is, as well as how moving in places.
The story picks up where Hitchhiker’s leaves off. Aboard the stolen spaceship ‘Heart of Gold’, Arthur Dent, Ford Prefect, Zaphod Beeblebrox, Trillian and Marvin the paranoid android are about to have a Vogon encounter of the worst kind. Resistance will no doubt be useless. But their ship has powerful defenses, so everything should be fine, right? Well, theoretically yes, except Arthur has tied up 99% of the ship computer’s processing power with his request for a cup of tea.
‘No,’ he said, ‘look, it’s very, very simple … all I want … is a cup of tea. Keep quiet and listen.’
And he sat. He told the Nutri-Matic about India, he told it about China, he told it about Ceylon. He told it about broad leaves drying in the sun. He told it about silver teapots. He told it about summer afternoons on the lawn. (p.9)
The crew of the Heart of Gold’s adventures will take them to the End of the Universe and back, in a series of bizarre set pieces which some reviewers have criticized for “not being a coherent plot”. I didn’t come to this book looking for a plot. I came here to enjoy the wild and funny ride, because that’s what The Restaurant at the End of the Universe is. It’s also a deeply humane, philosophical story disguised as a zany science-fiction comedy. Yes, it is very funny. It is bursting with laugh-out-loud ideas and dialogue, but it also contains deep musings on the meaning of life, the universe and everything.
‘And they ask you,’ said Zarniwoop, ‘to make decisions for them? About people’s lives, about worlds, about economies, about wars, about everything going on out there in the Universe?’
‘Out there?’ said the man. ‘Out where?’
‘Out there!’ said Zarniwoop, pointing at the door.
‘How can you tell there’s anything out there?’ said the man politely. ‘The door’s closed.’ (p.166)
I have always thought that Douglas Adams was a highly-gifted comedic writer, but this re-read has convinced me of his genius. He has you thinking about the BIG questions without realizing you are doing so, distracting you with his unique and witty sense of humour. Not only that, he writes about these big ideas in such a deceptively simple and digestible way you almost miss them because you’re enjoying the ride so much.
To finish, here’s a quote from the back-cover of my Picador 2002 edition:
When all questions of space, time, matter and the nature of being have been resolved, only one question remains – ‘Where shall we have dinner?’ The Restaurant at the End of the Universe provides the ultimate gastronomic experience, and for once there is no morning after to worry about.