Hitchhiker’s guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams: A review

Twenty-second book reviewed as part of the 130 Challenge.

The reputation of this book precedes it. It is a revered work of literature and has been hailed as one of the best satirical novels of our age. And boy, does it live up to it!

It’s an absurdly and subtly funny story. And wrapped in impeccable wit, undeniable irony and unbeatable sarcasm, are innumerable obscure references to scientific theories, observations on the nature of human beings, their psychology and in general, the human condition.

Hitchhiker's guide to the Galaxy CoverEverything that happens in the story is somehow telling you a smaller story of its own. The annihilation of Earth due to a bureaucratic mix up, the destruction of the Galactic economy because of over-spending, the whale that doesn’t have time enough to have an existential crisis, the message from the dolphins and their reason for considering humans to be vastly stupid: all of these incidents tell you something. They’re funny and you might even smile a bit after reading them (this is not a hilarious book, it is satirical) but once that effect wears out, you sit back and think a bit and sometimes, you might even have an epiphany or two.

This is where Adams has struck gold. He has developed a fine balance between being funny and profound. So subtle is his humor and so smooth is his method of delivery that he will tell you why you suck and you’ll happily admit it. And the absurdity of it all compels you think about it, because nothing is straight and nothing seems to be what it is. And in this way, it enriches you.

There is so much that Adams talks about, but he doesn’t do so with the cynicism of philosophers. Even when he talks about doom and the decline of civilization, he does so with a nonchalance and ease that only comes when you’ve learned to laugh at yourself. He will tell you about stuff without making you sweat; without any fanfare or emphasis. He will tell you about the vastness of the universe and the insignificance of puny humans, but he will not make you feel bad about it. He will just say it in a punchline and you’ll smile when you see it.

The story is unpredictable and strange, but that is what makes it so interesting. It surprises you all the time and you don’t know what to expect. Even so, towards the end, things start to fall into place and you feel that you know more about the queer universe of this book than when you started reading it.

Douglas Adams was a genius! And he has made it amply evident in this book. There’s so much more to it than meets the eye, that it easily merits a second read. And since the story is so strange and surprising, you’ll find that it will keep you hooked even the second time round. I look forward to reading the rest of the books in the series (a complete trilogy of five, haha!).

I obviously recommend this book to everyone, but just in case you’re having trouble deciding, don’t panic. Let this set of quotes from the book convince you.

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2 comments

  1. //There is so much that Adams talks about, but he doesn’t do so with the cynicism of philosophers. Even when he talks about doom and the decline of civilization, he does so with a nonchalance and ease that only comes when you’ve learned to laugh at yourself. He will tell you about stuff without making you sweat; without any fanfare or emphasis. He will tell you about the vastness of the universe and the insignificance of puny humans, but he will not make you feel bad about it. He will just say it in a punchline and you’ll smile when you see it.//

    The above is spot on. I remember having a discussion with an American acquaintance of mine a couple of years back about Adams and his style of writing. I was expressing my wonder about how Adams works (especially HHGTTG) is full of Nihilism – but somehow the Nihilism isn’t heavy or overwrought. It isn’t even mildly depressing; on the contrary it is hilarious. This acquaintance then responded by saying its “Playful Nihilism” – it’s the kind of Nihilism which makes you laugh at our existence, and at the absurdity of life and existence as we know it. And what makes this playful nihilism beautifully possible is Adams style of writing – which is basically farcical/whimsical humor (Eddie Izzard would describe it as the “smart-stupid” line – taking something serious/smart and telling it in a silly/farcical way – a line which Izzard also walks brilliantly).

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    1. Indeed. The best example that comes to mind is that of the whale. By the time it realizes that it exists, it is dead. Something similar to the fleeting nature of our existence. Before we realize our purpose in life, sometimes it is far too late.

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