Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams


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I daren’t count the years since I first picked up The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, but I remember finding it difficult to grow a beard at the time. I did attempt to read Dirk Gently at around about the time my attention span wavered from So Long…, but, alas, my attention wavered within three chapters. For one reason or another, I found it so much harder to get hooked by books before I had a beard. A correlation, perhaps, but I doubt a causation.

Back to the point: yesterday I finished the utterly delightful, sometimes hilarious, always ingenious tour de force that is Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. I now have the incredibly difficult task of relating just what is so brilliant about it without divulging any of the secrets impeccably layered within Dirk’s curious case. I’d rather not even name characters besides Mr Gently for fear I’ll imply whom among the ensemble are the major players. I do love a challenge.

Aside from the ever-erupting plot which makes good on Dirk’s claim about the interconnectedness of everything, Adams injects the novel with enough of his usual cunningly surrealist use of English that there’s as much enjoyment in stumbling across yet another perfectly formed sentence as there is in finding out whodunnit. Actually, the novel is more of a what-exactly-is-it-that-he-or-she-who-dunnit-did than a straightforward whodunnit. Again, I read Dirk Gently with as little knowledge of its events as possible and I’d like to afford anyone else the same pleasure.

The idea of him actually having friends as such seemed not so much unlikely, more a sort of mismatching of concepts, like the idea of the Suez crisis popping out for a bun.

It is a treat indeed for a man whose talent for anthropomorphism is possibly the best I’ve ever known to actually use the limits of that very device to such comedic effect.

Other aspects of Adams’ personality ooze into Dirk Gently, like his passion for conservation and a love for sciences, especially in their relation to the arts. There’s a rather fantastic extract about the mathematics of music and the flabbergasting processing ability of a human mind. I suppose that’s really what I want from a book – not monologues on mathematics specifically, but something valid outside the book’s internal universe, that feeling of having gained something personally from reading. That might ultimately be what draws me so much to books of fundamentally human themes, lust and power in Nineteen-Eighty-Four and that way pride and greed lets one live out a fantasy guilt-free from time to time as in The Great Gatsby. Certainly, Dirk Gently doesn’t devastate like Gatbsy and the other residents of my I-can-hardly-describe-this shelf, but just as I’d refer anyone to the ‘Godfellas’ episode of Futurama should I ever want to side with Christians in a nature-of-God argument, Gently might now be my go-to when I fancy saving time when arguing that mathematics is a beautiful and versatile language in future.

We also get to visit Islington and a fictional college of Cambridge which might as well be the amalgamation of Trinity and St John’s by my reckoning, we drink plenty of tea and even lampoon British Telecom. The thing is just oh-so-gorgeously English. Again, no naming names in fear of pinpointing main characters before they drift into the crosshairs – think Ripley in Alien – but I can say that Dirk et. al are joyous company, including those that aren’t joyous company in the slightest.

As ever, the challenge for me now is to find something to quench my appetite for something as tasty as Dirk Gently. Luckily for me, there’s a sequel, and it’s title, oh my: The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul.