The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (1980) Review


I don’t necessarily think that this was intended to be sequel. Frankly, I don’t know if this pentalogy is supposed to be a pentalogy. The only thing I know for certain is that the foreword and introduction in the grand collection (affectionately titled, The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) make repeated remarks that the author, Douglas Adams, was atrocious with deadlines.

Oh, and that he was funny, no one skimps on the funniness.

But the fact is, this novel starts with the conclusion of the last, making it abundantly clear that someone literally said to Adams, “just give me what you have so far,” when Hitchhiker’s was published.

Fittingly then, once the first story wraps, the subject of this adventure is time travel (and I’d wager it’s part of Adams’ sense of humor to have the sequel literally pick up seconds after the first one even though it was published a year later).

There are four main settings in this novel:

  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide editorial offices
  • Milliways (the aforementioned restaurant)
  • The ruler of the universe’s cabin
  • Prehistoric Earth

And the first setting is a clear indicator of Adams’ inability to finish things on time as it’s used as a catalyst to wrap up the events of Hitchhiker’s.

The arc left unfinished at the end of Hitchhiker’s was why Zaphod Beeblebrox had blocked off part of his mind. To give some scope, Zaphod is subjected to a device that will make him see himself in relation to the span of universe — a device that was crafted by a man for his nagging wife to see that the chores of the day can wait. This kills any sentient life forms. So, while I haven’t finished the series and therefore cannot say if we ever learn why Zaphod blocked off part of his brain, I can say that we are given a sufficient enough conclusion to this arc.

With this completed, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe finally begins and with it comes a whole lotta time travel.

The idea comes from the fact that Milliways is located at the end of the universe and continues to bleed over the edge and snap back as it hurls through the ever-expanding, ever-changing infinite universe — while I still don’t understand how this works, I do believe this reinterates one of the beauteous things about Adams: he has a marvelous way of putting the scope of the universe into perspective.

Our heroes arrive here because they want food so they tell the ship to go to the “nearest” restaurant. Because Milliways is not a fixed point, it is the closest possible restaurant at one point in time, so it jettisons them into the future — except Marvin who meets them there 20,000 years later.

You can enjoy the rest of the novel from there.

The thing I love that Adams does so well is abolish our sense of “home.” He did this with Arthur in the first novel and I mentioned this in my Hitchhiker’s review, but it bears repeating here. You can simply enjoy Adams’ work because the characters have nothing to return to, nothing to accomplish, so they enjoy life (the universe and everything). It’s what makes them so engaging because when all they want is one cup of tea, they will do anything to make it happen.

In fact, it’s why when Arthur Dent finally gets his wish and he’s able to return to Earth — prehistoric, mind you — it’s more somber than uplifting. There are people, but what’s sad is that Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect are locked in place with no hope of rescue since we know the Earth went untouched for two million years. They spend six months traveling from prehistoric England to prehistoric Norway and you would almost think this would be fascinating, but it’s not. It’s a lonesome ordeal and that’s when it hit me, Adams made Arthur’s (my) home feel empty.

The universe, like our imaginations, are limitless and are meant to be explored!

This realization comes at a price however as the novel ends on a depressing note. Arthur and Ford are stranded with no one to come for them. Their hitchhiking days are over… The only comedy is the irony, a robot waiting for 20,000 years is funny, but two voyagers trapped on one’s home planet for six months is a tragedy.

Of course, I’ve started the next novel in the series Life, the Universe, and Everything and I’m happy to say that Arthur and Ford are on their way back across the galaxy, but otherwise The Restaurant at the End of the Universe has one of the most dreary endings to a comedy I’ve ever witnessed. If I was waiting for these novels as they came out, I would be wrought with misery if that was my cliffhanger for Adams’ indefinite deadlines… But I am one of the fortunate few who is reading his works post-mortem, and can go through them the way most do Netflix series; of course the irony there, is I will one day finish and am worried that it will come too soon.

As I don’t want to end this review on a downer, I must revisit the ruler of the universe, who is by far, the most modest character created. Because he accepts himself as a minor vestige of the universe, he only admits his perceptions and does not admit anything with exactitude. He is a model for how to live life; do it your own way for only your perceptions dictate what is real to you.

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (1980)
By: Douglas Adams
Pan Books

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3 Comments on The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (1980) Review

  1. I think British people have a more surreal perspective of existence. You don’t get characters like Arthur or Doctor Who from American fiction because we’re too… pessimistic? Finicky? We can’t be happy just wandering the universe, American perspective needs something to fight against and triumph over. Have you seen World’s End?

    • Honestly, I’d like to even go over some of this more broad, complete opinion based stuff in a Poditive Screwcast — like what is the difference to us between British comedy and US. Or yeah, scope of the universe vs. the most self-centered people ever (i.e. Iron Man). Or look at Titanic — huge disaster, but we care more about the love story (supposedly).

      Also, I’d love to do a podcast about what we look for in movies, because I’m slowly finding it out.

      In any case, I have not, but believe me it’s not because I have no interest. I liked Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz is one of my favorite movies of all time.
      In any case,

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