Adams, Douglas: Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency; The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul (audio)

I’d read Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul before, but remembered nothing useful about them. I listened to them as audiobooks read by the author, as with the Hitchhiker’s books, and Adams again did an excellent job (with one small exception).

Dirk Gently’s was a lot better than I’d remembered (the sum total of which was Coleridge and weirdness). The ending requires a fairly unjustified deductive leap, but the characters were much more emotionally engaging—I remember listening to the death and after-death of one of the characters, and thinking that Adams had really surpassed himself with the sequence. Except for that unjustified deductive leap, the book also struck me as a lot more carefully constructed than the Hitchhiker’s Guide books. It does something neat with the worldbuilding, which is carried through well and cleverly even though I was distracted and didn’t notice it at first. I think that as a novel, it’s probably Adams’ best.

Despite the title of Dirk Gently’s, I thought Dirk was a supporting character and was unsure he could carry an entire novel by himself. Fortunately, in Long Dark Teatime, he’s balanced with a sensible co-protagonist, Kate (who doesn’t sound American in the least in Adams’s reading). The characters and book were ultimately less engaging to me, however, because it’s much pettier than the first. This is the point, mind you (consider the title), but it’s still not to my taste. It also struck me as less tightly-constructed, though I’m afraid that with this backlog I can’t recall the specific loose ends.

I certainly recommend reading or listening to Dirk Gently’s, though, and I’m pleased to have rediscovered it.

5 Comments

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  1. Agreed on this pair’s general superiority craft-wise to the Hitchhiker books. Does the pettiness of Tea-time help to balance (what I recall as) an increase in direct god-human contact? That is, the breakdown of that boundary needs not to be weighty, whence silliness, and the entities on both sides need to be flawed…. Funny–I’d forgotten about the Coleridge stuff till seeing your post. The Norse mythological admixture is what’s stuck with me. (From before I was a medievalist–that isn’t why.)

  2. greythistle: _Long Dark Teatime_ has much more god-human contact (I don’t recall any in _Dirk Gently’s_). I suppose the pettiness might balance it, or at least make it possible/necessary for Dirk to get involved, but I just don’t enjoy reading about petty people, human or god. I have heard people speak admiringly of the portrayal of the Norse pantheon in _Long Dark Teatime_, which suggests to me that Norse mythology is probably not my cup of tea.

  3. Mm. The portrayal works well, but it feels very different to me from the texts from which we get all this stuff. The characters in the sagas are often petty, though. 🙂

  4. (Very late with this comment; sorry if it’s long since scrolled off everyone’s radar.) _Dirk Gently’s…_ is almost unique in my experience, as being a book that I somewhat enjoyed the first time I read it, and then loved mightily the second time I read it. I don’t know whether I was being particularly clueless and dense when I first read it, or whether it is a masterpiece of foreshadowing, plot structure, and The Fundamental Interconnectedness of All Things.

  5. David: I do think _Dirk Gently’s_ works better the second time around, because you can see the clever worldbuilding thing and how all of it fits together; the first time I, at least, just wasn’t sure what was going on. So either we’re both clueless or it is a masterpiece–and I know which I’d prefer. =>

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