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The Salmon Of Doubt - Douglas Adams
Member Name: SWSt
The Salmon Of Doubt - Douglas Adams
Advantages: Funny, intelligent and engaging: everything you expect from Adams
Disadvantages: Somtimes a little too random
The death of Douglas Adams at the age of just 49 was - as this book shows - a tragic loss to the world of humorous, but thought-provoking writing. If Death had any sense of irony, Adams would have died at the age of 42. That has least, would have given us one last joke from his most famous creation. Instead, his death in 2001 merely left a hole which to this day not really been filled.
The Salmon of Doubt provides a few tantalising glimpses of what might have been. It collects together a number of items which friends, relatives and editors retrieved from Adams' (many) computers and includes ten chapters of what would have become the third Dirk Gently novel.
The collection really is a mish-mash of musings on a whole range of topics (although many are relating to technology, atheism and animals - three causes for which Adams was something of a spokesman). They offer some interesting insights into Adams' ideas and outlook, although the somewhat random nature of both subject matter and purpose sometimes frustrates. Some are lengthy speeches, transcriptions of previously published interviews or articles Adams wrote. Others are mere musings, scraps of passing thought consisting of just a few short sentences but which nevertheless capture something of the man's wit.
What shines through all of them is the intelligence of Adams as a writer and observer of human life and an ability to view life in a pleasingly skewed way. Adams' pieces have that rare ability to make you think seriously about something one minute and have you rolling around the floor with laughter the next. He is the master of using just the right word or phrase in just the right place at just the right time, so that seemingly innocent and dull events suddenly become very funny. There were a number of times when The Salmon of Doubt had me shamelessly laughing out loud in public.
Similarly, whilst you might not necessarily agree with all of Adams' ideas, he outlines his beliefs in a clear and intelligent fashion, documenting just why he believes what he does. He will make you think about and examine your own opinions even if, ultimately, you do not accept his conclusions. Then he will make you laugh again.
The Salmon of Doubt gets into the mind of Douglas Adams in a way which few of his previous books ever did. It gives the reader a peak into how his mind worked (oddly and very rapidly) and how he enjoyed the creative process of writing a book (he didn't!). It's a very personal book, giving lots of insights into the author and somehow, that seems a very fitting tribute for "his" last book.
The most tantalising and tragic aspect is the final section, which contains ten chapters of what would have been the third Dirk Gently novel, reconstructed from several different drafts. On the evidence of what we have here, this would have been the usual combination of an interesting, off-the-wall, baffling plot combined with daft situations and lots of humorous observations on human nature. Even though the manuscript only exists in unfinished draft form with huge chunk forever trapped in the mind of the author, the version we have here was still good enough to make laugh out loud repeatedly.
It is a shame that there's not a bit more structure to the book. It's arranged into sections entitled (of course) Life, The Universe, And Everything, although these are fairly arbitrary headings and there doesn't appear to be any particular logic to what appears in what section. It's ordered neither chronologically, nor by subject (grouping, for example, all items on religion or technology together). The apparently random nature of things does sometimes make you feel as though you are pinging around the author's mind. In fairness, though, it also gives the book a great feeling of serendipity and you never quite know what you are going to come across next.
This is clearly not a book for Adams newcomers and anyone who tries to start with The Salmon of Doubt will wonder what on earth they have picked up. If you want a more typical Adams book, read the five books in the Hitch-hiker's trilogy instead (yes, that statement is correct!*) instead. For fans, however, this is an oddly fitting tribute to a fondly remembered author and gives us a glimpse of what the future might have held had Adams not died at such a tragically young age.
The Salmon of Doubt
Pan, New Edition, 2003
* Sort of. There is now a sixth hitch-hiker's book, but that wasn't written by Adams so I'm ignoring it for the purposes of this review.
© Copyright SWSt 2012
Summary: One last from an author who left too soon