“Let us think the unthinkable, let us do the undoable, let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all.”
I’ve been listening to Douglas Adams’ criminally underrated novel Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency on Youtube for the last couple of days, mainly because my recent encounter with Wodehouse’s Leave It To Psmith left me with a desire to become reacquainted with the irrepressible con artist Dirk Gently and I didn’t have a hard copy with me.
It’s such a weird story that it’s hard to summarise in a way that doesn’t sound completely awful, but I’ll try. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, an establishment which works on the principle of the fundamental interconnectivity of all things, is usually frequented by old ladies who have lost their cats and couples going through messy divorces. Dirk is not entirely happy about this state of affairs, but at least it gives him an excuse to eat pizza and be facetious on the phone all day. One day, however, a computing mogul is murdered horribly, an old friend of Dirk’s is seen climbing into a third-floor apartment, and an eccentric old Cambridge professor pulls off a magic trick which is, from the point of view of the Magic Circle, completely impossible. And solving this mystery will take us back to the beginning of life itself.
(All things considered, I think that’s a pretty good description.)
So listening to Adams (literally – Douglas Adams himself was reading) is quite a different experience to simply reading his words on the page. For a start, you don’t have to concentrate so hard during the boring bits (and there are some boring bits here, it’s true); for another thing, all the jokes are just so much funnier. I’m not sure why, but I do know that I frequently laughed out loud to myself, incidentally causing those around me to doubt my sanity even more than they did already.
Another thing which surprised me: Dirk himself doesn’t actually appear in the story until a good half-way through, which is, in my opinion, a major failing, because Dirk is, after all, the star of this story (nobody reads it for Richard Macduff, who’s described as a praying mantis who doesn’t pray). There will never be enough Dirk Gently in the world.
This is an ambitious story, actually, one that’s much more science-fictiony than it looks initially, and one which is full of Adams’ quite humanistic views on life and art and maths. Admittedly, it’s a little didactic: there’s a whole magazine article about maths and music which feels a little gratuitous and makes me think that Richard is basically a stand-in for Adams himself. But, as with Leave It To Psmith, the occasional plot inconsistencies and mistakes pale in comparison with the sheer gleeful humour of the book.
Plus, Dirk Gently.