Observer Review: The Salmon Of Doubt By Douglas Adams Essay, Research Paper
A deadline bandit’s last hurrahThe Salmon of DoubtDouglas AdamsMacmillan ?16.99, pp299When I was in publishing in the 1980s, hardly a season went by without some wonderful piece of gossip about the brilliant new book Douglas Adams was not writing. These tales were matched by scarcely credible reports of the increasingly desperate non-literary techniques employed by his then editor, Sonny Mehta, somehow to liberate this unwritten chef-d’oeuvre and place it before the massive and avid audience engendered by Adams’s 1979 cult bestseller The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and its successors, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (1980) and Life, the Universe and Everything (1982).’I love deadlines,’ the recalcitrant author used to say. ‘I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.’So there’s an irony, which Adams would have enjoyed hugely, at the almost indecent speed at which, exactly a year after his untimely death at the age of 49, his widow, literary agent and some of his closest friends have assembled this posthumous volume from the recesses of the CD-ROM on which Adams had accumulated his unpublished writings (letters, speeches, introductions, faxes, pensées). For a man whose reputation went up with every book he didn’t write, Adams was privately quite productive, leaving no shortage for his fans.Like Caesar’s Gaul, this valedictory volume is divided into three parts. The first (’Life’) is a collage of ephemeral writings indicative of their author’s range of interests: the Beatles, popular science, PG Wodehouse and the letter Y.The second (’Universe’) reflects Adams’s fascination with technology (’I unashamedly love playing with gadgets’), computer science and ‘the little dongly things that run on 120 volts AC’. More important, possibly, to the mature Adams are the pages devoted to his passionate advocacy on behalf of endangered species.Finally, there are various items of fiction (’Everything’) – some stories (’The Private Life of Genghis Khan’) and 10 chapters of the long undelivered novel, provisionally entitled The Salmon of Doubt on which Adams was working when he died. This is a kind of sequel to his two spoof detective novels, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul and features the usual suspects: Dave of Daveland, Desmond the rhinoceros and Thor suffering ‘fits of Nordic angst’.Although this is essentially a book for aficionados, it contains items of rare originality. Stephen Fry, who contributes a luminous introduction, has written elsewhere of Adams’s unique ‘ability to connect cosmic ideas with the banal commonplaces of everyday life’. At times, reading Douglas Adams is like watching Isaac Asimov meet PG Wodehouse, a twentieth-century humourist Adams venerated. For me, his essay on Sunset at Blandings is one of the special pleasures of this volume.Actually, as Robert MacFarlane has already noticed in The Observer, Adams is more plausibly ‘the Lewis Carroll of the twentieth century’, a writer who articulated painful, accidental truths behind a mask of foolery and who found in his parallel universe a happy release from the vanities of earth and the almost intolerable stress of everyday life.