Reading The Hike is quite an experience. Simultaneously familiar and yet utterly unlike anything I’ve ever read, it is a surreal, hilarious and emotionally crushing quest narrative, with touches of Douglas Adams, Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman, Murakami, The Mighty Boosh and Terry Gilliam… but with something else I just cannot put my finger on.
Although replete with monsters and demons galore, a man-eating giant, humongous insects and a wise-cracking crab, The Hike is neither straightforward fantasy nor SF. Ben sets out for a walk around the back of a hotel he’s staying in but, after witnessing a bizarre and truly terrifying sight, he becomes separated from the path, from the life he knows and the family he loves.
Plagued by recurrent dreams of his past – but with different outcomes to the same events in his reality – Ben keeps going, desperate to return to his wife and three kids. Is he in hell? An alternate universe? Is this all some kind of cruel ‘test’? Who is doing this to him?
He encounters an odd array of ‘guides’ and companions whose advice shapes his journey – a little old lady who is a lot more than she seems; the aforementioned and wonderful talking crab; a brazen giantess; a Spanish conquistador, and finally the mysterious ‘Producer.’ Family, friends and acquaintances from his youth pop up randomly along the path he follows, and in the vivid and reality-subverting dreams which sustain him through the torment he endures as he tries to work out where, how and why he is and how to get back to where he belongs.
This book had me completely spellbound. However I was terrified that, when the ending came, it would be along the lines of the dreaded ‘and then he woke up and it had all been a dream.’ But I kept faith and was rewarded in an unexpectedly neat, yet gratifying, way.
I could go on and on about The Hike but am trying to be wary of spoilers. Drew Magary’s writing is not only hysterically funny, it’s also sharp, trippy and brilliantly imaginative as well as heart-breaking and heartening to equal degrees. This book is going to stay with me for a long time…
The Hike is published by Penguin Random House on 6 July
(9780399563874, p/b, 278pp, £11.99)