Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Eoin Colfer: And Another Thing... (2009)

Edition: Michael Joseph, 2009
Review number: 1405

I borrowed this book from the library expecting to hate it. Even though I didn't like the end of the Hitchhiker series as it stood at Douglas Adams' death, I couldn't imagine anyone else continuing it in the way that he might have been able to (if he'd overcome the blocks he experienced in the later part of his writing career). I'd also read Artemis Fowl, which made Colfer's name, and didn't think much of it.

And, when And Another Thing... came out, it was serialised on BBC Radio 4 as an audiobook, and I listened to that and did indeed hate it. Hitchhiker was always hilarious, and the abridged version - 340 pages in 75 minutes which I'd estimate means leaving out 75% of the text - failed to raise a smile. Of course, that could have been the cuts ("let's leave out the jokes to keep the plot comprehensible"), or the way it was read (not Steve Mangan's finest hour and a quarter), or some of the plot decisions (the way Colfer got out of the problems caused by the ending of Mostly Harmless seemed trite and unconvincing to me). Would the book itself be more worth reading? Friends who might have read it turned out not to have done. So, there was only one way to find out...

Initially, my reaction was positive. At greater length, the unravelling of the finality of the ending of Mostly Harmless, while still not very imaginative, worked better and contained some amusing touches. But things do go downhill from there. Some of the issues are with the characters as created by Douglas Adams. I have always found Zaphod Beeblebrox verging on being more irritating than funny, and Colfer makes him a particularly important character here and he becomes an annoying manipulator of the plot: more self-centred than ever. Wowbagger, the immortal being who is insulting every being in the universe in alphabetical order, also turns up and is made a major character: Colfer's attempts to make him more than the brief joke he is for Adams make him at least as unsympathetic and irritating as a dealmaking Zaphod. And finally, Colfer seems to share Adams' interest in Norse myth, and a lot of the book (even more in the radio abridgement) is about Zaphod's dealings with Asgard - all very dull compared to the meeting with Thor at a party in Mostly Harmless.

All this could be forgiven if And Another Thing... had turned out to be as funny as the first few Hitchhiker books were on first reading. In this aspect, I got the impression that Colfer didn't work too hard, settling for the obvious and poor pun rather than thinking hard about exactly what would be funny. (Apparently Douglas Adams used to agonise about individual words for ages, and this shows in the inventive quality of the first three books in particular.) The way that the book-within-the-book of the actual Guide is handled here is partly to blame for the lack of laughs. The "Book" extracts are among the highlights of the original stories, being extremely funny and often explaining how the bizarre situations Arthur and Ford find themselves in arose. Here, they are intrusive, irrelevant and humourless asides (though it is fairly obvious that Colfer thinks them hilarious). Some attempt has been made to make them stand out typographically, something I don't think Adams ever did, and this, like so much else about And Another Thing... is depressingly unimaginative: the entries are printed in italics. So much more could have been done here to indicate their peripheral nature and liven up the presentation of the book.

Colfer is obviously a fan, and this makes him a good choice as a writer of a sequel. But he is not really very funny at all, even when writing his own books. (I've read Artemis Fowl, and it seems like a good idea - a child evil genius - let down by a lack of imagination and lazy writing, though many people seem to think it extremely funny.) In the end, And Another Thing... reads like a not very wonderful piece of fan fiction, of the sort published in vast quantities on the Internet: and I feel sure that there are likely to be better sequels to Hitchhiker available free at fanfiction.net. My rating - 2/10.

1 comment:

Simon McLeish said...

I see that Steve Mangan is going to play Dirk Gently in a TV adaptation of the Holistic Detective Agency books. Seems a pretty poor choice, especially after hearing him read And Another Thing....