Monday 30 May 2011

Review: - Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

The past week, I’ve been enviously reading about people’s BEA adventures, and wishing (as I don’t often wish) that I didn’t live in England, so I could have gone. All the jealousy has had a positive effect, though, as reading about people’s experiences and all the books they’ve got, made me focus on all the books that I’ve got lying around my house, unread. I love that I’m getting back into writing posts again lately. The past month or so I’ve read loads, but not wanted to write much at all. The last couple of weeks, I’ve been back with having to write just to get my thoughts out of my head. It’s so freeing to see all my thoughts and ideas neatly expurged and sorted onto paper, and working out not just what I really think about books, but also about authors, genres, and literary issues in general is one of the many things I really love about blogging. 

My dad read me The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy  as a bedtime story when I was nine or ten. He hardly reads fiction at all, with the exception of Douglas Adams, Tolkein, and Terry Pratchett, but he used to tell us the most amazing made up stories, and so it was a really big deal when he read to us from books! Hitchhiker made us laugh so loudly my mum would come upstairs to find out what was going on, and we’d all be so engrossed that we’d still be reading hours past our bedtime, Dad’s dinner getting cold, without any of us noticing. I read the rest of the series to myself, and pretty much didn’t stop laughing until I finished the last page of Mostly Harmless. For years, one of my first questions to potential friends was to ask them what the meaning of life was. If their answer was 42, they were ok, anything else, and they were out the door. Yes,  I know – totally weird question to ask, and yes it did make a lot of people run away from the crazy girl, and no, I don’t do it anymore, because I now recognise that there’s more to friendship than knowledge of Douglas Adams books, but anyway, suffice to say that I’m a big fan.

I was having one of my semi-regular sort outs of my bookshelves a while back, and was shocked to realised that I had managed to possess both Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency and The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul for about a year without reading either of them. Needless to say, they both moved way up the TBR pile!

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is a difficult book to write a synopsis for, as it’s about many very odd things. It seems it’s pretty much impossible for me to capture the essence of a Douglas Adams book in a mere few paragraphs. Here’s what Goodreads has to say about it:

Detective Gently whizzes about the world, the universe, and time itself as a group of eccentric characters help him find an eccentric cat, solve a murder, and save the human race.
Basically, Richard is dating Susan. Susan’s brother Gordon (Richard’s boss) is murdered, and Dirk, Richard’s old college friend, gets involved in finding out who really did it. Cue adventures involving Dirk and Richard’s old college professor, time travel, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and (of course) aliens. As usual, the entire plot line is set in motion by a seemingly ‘trivial’ alien event; there really isn’t much of a reason for anything that happens. The characters throughout, are mostly just trying to work out which series of random events have led to the random event they’re currently trying to deal with. The first random event is the arrival on Earth of an electric monk, which “believed things for you, thus saving you what was becoming an increasingly onerous task, that of believing all the things the world expected you to believe”. Like Marvin the paranoid android in Hitchhikers, I just really loved the descriptive passages about the Electric Monk, such as this one:
“The Monk currently believed that the valley and everything in the valley and around it, including the Monk itself and the Monk’s horse, was a uniform shade of pale pink. This made for a certain difficulty in distinguishing any one thing from any other thing, and therefore made doing anything or going anywhere impossible” p4
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency was really quirky and slightly insane. The thing I love most about Adams is his ability to state the completely impossible in an absolutely matter of fact way. His style is so compact, and he puts the reader inside the heads of his characters so well that you get swept away and believe things can happen because the characters believe that they are. And the beautiful thing about it is that the characters often don’t believe things are happening, and spend entire novels in a state of bewildered disbelief. I often wonder if this was how Adams felt about things, as it seems to come out very clearly in his work. I know I should be talking about him in the past tense, as this month marked the tenth anniversary of his death, but somehow he still feels very alive to me. His writing is so vivid, and his characters so animated, in some cases, even when they’re dead, that it really does feel, to quote a total cliché, as if he lives on in his books.
I really don’t know how Douglas Adams managed to come up with ideas which sound so perfectly rational and plausible, while at the same time being completely ridiculous and impossible. I wish I could do it, and I really hope that one day, whenever I do start to write again, I’ll be able to channel some of his totally crazy humorous joy into my own work.

I loved this book, as I’ve loved all of his books. After loving Hitchhikers for so long, I was worried that nothing else would live up to it, but this did. It’s definitely going on my ‘keeper’ shelf!

Rating: *****

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