In this touching story, set in an eerily believable dystopian future, Tevis explores what it means to be human–a well-worn topic that somehow finds fresh, new life under his sensitive but sure hand. I quite liked how the story unfolded when approached with rather less preknowledge than could be gained from the previous sentence, so I will leave this review suitably sparse. Suffice it to say that the author’s insight into the human condition combines with the book’s accessibility, immediacy and artistic merit to outshine, in my opinion, other novels in the genre, such as Brave New World and 1984.
[Why I read it: A recommendation from my friend, Alison.]
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, narrated by Stephen Fry
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams, narrated by Martin Freeman
Life, the Universe and Everything by Douglas Adams, narrated by Martin Freeman
So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish by Douglas Adams, narrated by Martin Freeman
Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams, narrated by Martin Freeman
Overall rating: 5/5
Very rarely do I stop what I’m doing and think Do you know what would be great right now? A soundtrack of someone reading out loud much too slowly for hours and hours, completely oblivious to whether I’ve become distracted or have just woken up from an impromptu nap with no idea how much story I’ve missed. You see, audiobooks are a form of entertainment that require a strangely specific level of participation on the part of the listener. You must be doing something while you listen, not just staring at a blank wall, but it mustn’t be anything too interesting or you will get distracted and lose track of the story. There simply aren’t many activities in my life that fit this criteria. If I want to experience a certain book, I’ll read it quickly and efficiently in my spare time; if I’m doing an activity that leaves a little brain space free, I’ll listen to music. Even if I were a truck driver, window washer or commuter who relied on audiobooks to stay sane, I’d still consider listening to a book to be an inferior experience to reading a book.
At least, that was my opinion until I heard about five minutes of The Restaurant at the End of the Universe while driving to school with my sister. The first thing that struck me was not Douglas Adams’ bone-achingly funny writing, but Martin Freeman’s extraordinary narration skills. He doesn’t just read, he acts. And, with his plaintive, everyman, English accent, he is perfectly cast. The second thing that struck me was how much funnier and more enjoyable Adams’ humour-packed writing is when delivered at normal speaking speed instead of my usual voracious reading tempo, which barely leaves time to absorb one joke before the next is past. In fact, I felt the series was strangely well-suited to the audiobook format, not realising until much later that The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in fact started as a BBC radio comedy series! So in a sense, the audiobooks are more in tune with the original concept than the books, which could almost be considered spin-offs.
With regard to the quality of Douglas Adams’ writing, I have few complaints besides the dreariness with which the series ends. Sure, there are ups and downs, parts that are brilliant and parts that lag, inventive jokes and cliched ones, but the overall effect is one of astounding genius and imagination.
[Why I listened to it: My sister’s friend listened to the series repeatedly while working as a window washer, so she decided to give it a try and I heard excerpts when we happened to drive to school together. I actually bought the entire book series (in one volume) last year, but had not gotten around to reading it before encountering the audiobooks.]
For some reason, I didn’t enjoy this book as much as the previous one. Perhaps some of the premise’s novelty has worn off for me, or perhaps the storylines just weren’t as engaging. I felt that Lukyanenko tried a bit too hard to include pop culture/literary references and I was annoyed by his appropriation of Merlin as a story character. The writing was decent, though there was some clumsiness in the first few pages that actually made me stop to check if the translator was the same person (it was). I didn’t appreciate the racy content, but it was nowhere as bad as Day Watch. Overall, a somewhat meh experience, but I’ll still be reading the fifth book in the series, as soon as it comes in at the library.
[Why I read it: I’ve been reading this series off and on over the last couple months, starting with Night Watch.]