Douglas Adams's The Salmon of Doubt is a posthumous collection of unpublished fragments found on his computers, copies of speeches and interviews he gave, excerpts of articles he wrote for various magazines, and chapters from a novel he was working on. It's uneven in the extreme, like the splash of jumbled terrain frozen around the crater produced by a giant meteor impact. Every death is tragic, but Adams' heart attack somehow seemed to yank his fingers off the keyboard in mid-sentence.

The worst feature of Salmon, or rather non-feature, is its index: there isn't one, and this sort of book desperately needs to be cross-referenced. Its best, by far, is the introduction that Adams wrote for P. G. Wodehouse's Sunset at Blandings. The commentary applies perfectly to Douglas himself, and to Salmon:

This is P. G. Wodehouse's last—and unfinished—book. It is unfinished not just in the sense that it suddenly, heartbreakingly for those of us who love this man and his work, stops in mid-flow, but in the more important sense that the text up to that point is also unfinished. A first draft for Wodehouse was a question of getting the essential ingredients of a story organised—its plot structure, its characters and their comings and goings, the mountains they climb and the cliffs they fall off. It is the next stage of writing—the relentless revising, refining, and polishing—that turned his works into the marvels of language we know and love. When he was writing a book, he used to pin the pages in undulating waves around the wall of his workroom. Pages he felt were working well would be pinned up high, and those that still needed work would be lower down the wall. His aim was to get the entire manuscript up to the picture rail before he handed it in. Much of Sunset at Blandings would probably still have been obscured by the chair backs. It was a work in progress. Many of the lines in it are just placeholders for what would come in later revisions—the dazzling images and conceits that would send the pages shooting up the walls.

Douglas Adams: 1952-2001 — Don't Panic

(many thanks to Judy Decker for telling me about Salmon of Doubt (edited by Peter Guzzardi, published in 2002); cf. PaperWork (12 Jan 2004), ForgivenTrespasses (14 Nov 2004), ...)

TopicLiterature - TopicHumor - 2005-07-07

(correlates: Deadlines, PureCoincidence, Projectile Precision, ...)