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Old 10-01-2019, 07:16 AM   #1
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October 2019 Discussion • Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams



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Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency is a humorous detective novel by English writer Douglas Adams, first published in 1987. It is described by the author on its cover as a "thumping good detective-ghost-horror-who dunnit-time travel-romantic-musical-comedy-epic".

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Old 10-15-2019, 12:14 AM   #2
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When I finished this, I couldn't help reflecting that as a club we may have lost Oily-Moily, but we gained J.S. Bach, presumably for the better.

It's time to discuss Dirk Gently, no travel necessary. What did we think of it?
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Old 10-15-2019, 12:40 AM   #3
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How delightfully wacky. I admit, I had a rough start with it, but then I finally got into the flow and quite enjoyed it. Read in chunks, not straight through, though. Somehow, more than an hour or so of Douglas Adams and I stop seeing the funny. So, I go read something else for a bit, then come back to him.
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Old 10-15-2019, 03:26 AM   #4
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I haven't quite finished yet, but getting close. Adams' fiction, for me, has always been a matter of mood. In the right mood, the whimsical diversions and elaborations all just fit in perfectly ... but in the wrong mood they frustrate. Of course, it can be quite difficult with Adams' work to distinguish what is a whimsical diversion and what is key plot point. I strongly suspect that, very often, the former has evolved into the latter as the book developed.

I've enjoyed the journey so far.
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Old 10-15-2019, 07:26 AM   #5
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I can't resist sharing yet another "The New Leaf Book Club is everywhere" moment.

I was simultaneously listening to the first Jeeves novel, Thank You, Jeeves (well, not at the same time, but you'll get my meaning), and there was more than one reference to "woman wailing for her demon lover." These synhronicities always tickle me.

I loved this. I was amused and challenged, as it was both witty and intricate. I've always been lukewarm on HHGTTG and I never would read this on my own, so I've been particularly delighted with it as a selection. I've already put the sequel on hold at OverDrive.

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Adams' fiction, for me, has always been a matter of mood. In the right mood, the whimsical diversions and elaborations all just fit in perfectly ... but in the wrong mood they frustrate. Of course, it can be quite difficult with Adams' work to distinguish what is a whimsical diversion and what is key plot point. I strongly suspect that, very often, the former has evolved into the latter as the book developed.
I know this would reward a reread, or at least a reskim, to follow the plot lines as they converged, now that I know the destination. As it was, I agree with you. Some things were obvious, such as the three questions of George III. It's harder to know in retrospect what I missed. I also agree that there's an element of hit or miss with the prose; this is a very funny book, but some attempts at humor fell flat, at least for me. But I suspect this is par for the course; not everything will appeal to one's individual funny bone, and the reader probably benefits from some downtime anyway. In part, I think that's the point of the serious disquisitions interspersed throughout the book; we'd stop appreciating wordplay if it were relentless.

I see that my post above contained a mild spoiler for those who've not finished, but I think it's an example of one of the earmarks of time travel books, so only a spoiler in specifics and not in type. Hence the reference to Oily-Moily, and really I think that must have been a direct reference by Fry to Adams.
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Old 10-15-2019, 07:32 AM   #6
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I finished reading it a few days ago, and having had a lot of bemused fun with it, went back and reread the whole thing straight away. I think it is extremely well done, and every bit of it makes perfect sense (in a Douglas Adams way of course!) on a second reading.

I first read it when it was published, and had completely forgotten the plot. I enjoyed it hugely - I found it funny, witty and clever. And as a musician of sorts, I loved the joke about the music of Bach.
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Old 10-16-2019, 12:40 AM   #7
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I wasn't completely certain whether I had read this before or not, but it was familiar enough that I'm pretty sure I must have, just a very long time ago.

It was fun. Lots of the wit and humour I guess we all expected, and quite a lot of social commentary, which I also expected. I liked the characters and his descriptions of the settings, but I found the plot a bit disappointing.

We end up with effectively two quite separate story lines: The story of the Electric Monk and Gordon Way is told in parallel with the events surrounding Richard, Dirk, Reg and the 4-billion-year-old-ghost. Yes the two sets of events touch on each other, but just touch, either could have existed without the other with only very minor changes to the text.

On its own, Richard's side of the tale was fairly clever, with this integration of Coleridge's poetry and real life (well possibly real or possibly made up by Coleridge) person from Porlock. The George III question thing had me re-reading those paragraphs about four times before I realised it was probably intentional (my ebook had a number of typographical errors) and kept reading to wait for the reveal. And on its own, Gordon's side of the tale was very funny and entertaining. I just found it a shame that the two sides weren't linked more tightly; I kept thinking Dirk was going to come out with some crucial link, but it never happened.

It's not a big deal. The book was fun anyway, I was just hoping for a bit more.
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Old 10-16-2019, 12:49 AM   #8
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I am curious about the title. We don't meet Dirk, nor see his agency, until almost half-way through the novel. In many respects the Holistic Detective Agency doesn't seem that important to the story. Dirk is important, yes, but the Agency not so much. I guess "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency" made for a more inspiring title than "The Sofa in the Stairwell".

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Old 10-16-2019, 06:54 AM   #9
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I really like this book and its sequel The Long Dark Tea-time of the Soul. Not quite up there with Hitchhiker's (for me) but still very good. I haven't re-read them in a while. May do, I could do with something light.

I think Adams did have an issue of "too many ideas" at times, which he solved in Hitchhiker's by constant funny asides from the Book. The issue, which may have had an impact I don't know, is he was famously bad at hitting deadlines. I believe someone from his publisher literally came over and took his work in progress manuscript for So Long and Thanks for All the Fish when he had failed to meet the umpteenth deadline. Notably that book as less of the Book in it.

But possibly the biggest cause of it feeling a little like disconnected strands is that a lot of the time travel stuff was re-purposed from an unfilmed Dr Who script that Adams wrote.

One of the things I like about Adams writing is that a lot of his jokes, which I merely thought of as funny when I was young, I now realise are astute and clever too. I like his explanation of hypnosis for example, or the decision-making software. There are lots of examples in Hitch-hiker's too.
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Old 10-16-2019, 07:07 AM   #10
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I am curious about the title. We don't meet Dirk, nor see his agency, until almost half-way through the novel. In many respects the Holistic Detective Agency doesn't seem that important to the story. Dirk is important, yes, but the Agency not so much. I guess "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency" made for a more inspiring title than "The Sofa in the Stairwell".
I agree - it does seem to take a long time for Dirk to make an appearance. But the book does build up nicely to his coming onto the stage. In any case, the idea of such a detective agency is so delicious that Adams clearly couldn’t go past using it for the title.
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Old 10-16-2019, 07:17 AM   #11
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On the issue of the two storylines that you raise gmw, I thought they did tie together. The ghost of Gordon was released, as it were, after he finally managed to get through to Susan’s machine with the vital information about Michael, thus for once doing something of real value for others instead of himself. Indeed, of value to all life on earth!
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Old 10-16-2019, 07:39 AM   #12
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I am curious about the title. We don't meet Dirk, nor see his agency, until almost half-way through the novel. In many respects the Holistic Detective Agency doesn't seem that important to the story. Dirk is important, yes, but the Agency not so much. I guess "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency" made for a more inspiring title than "The Sofa in the Stairwell".
I wonder if the title could have reflected an original intention to make this the first of a series, rather than just a twofer?

How about The Horse in the Bathroom?
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Old 10-16-2019, 07:54 AM   #13
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On the issue of the two storylines that you raise gmw, I thought they did tie together. The ghost of Gordon was released, as it were, after he finally managed to get through to Susan’s machine with the vital information about Michael, thus for once doing something of real value for others instead of himself. Indeed, of value to all life on earth!
I actually thought this was all headed to some big Gordon-saves-the-day thing, and so it sort of was, but look at what it actually turned out to be: Gordon was walking along Noel Rd - that the reader had no reason to recognise but Gordon did - and saw a woman running out screaming. We later learn that this must (presumably) have been someone discovering that Ross had been murdered, and Gordon passes this on to Susan who passes it on to Richard.

So, on the Richard side of the story, any of them could simply have heard it on the news. I can see that it was convenient to use Gordon, having bothered to keep him around this long, but his involvement didn't really add much to this aspect of the story because it wasn't critical to it (as far as I could see).

On the Gordon side of the story it's just confusing. Up to this time, Gordon had desperately been trying to talk to or to leave messages with Susan (or someone, anyone) and never succeeding. Now, suddenly, he succeeds and disappears. What was holding Gordon around as a ghost? Why was reporting this murder, about a man that he (as far as I could see) barely knew, a resolution for him?

Indeed it was good for all life on Earth, but it was inconsistent with the general expectation that ghosts hang around because of something unresolved for themselves (just as is the case for our 4-billion-year-old ghost). Perhaps the resolution was that Gordon finally got to finish the call he started while he was still alive (albeit about a different subject).

I'm not really that hung up about it, I just found it an unsatisfying aspect to the book.
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Old 10-16-2019, 07:56 AM   #14
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We end up with effectively two quite separate story lines: The story of the Electric Monk and Gordon Way is told in parallel with the events surrounding Richard, Dirk, Reg and the 4-billion-year-old-ghost. Yes the two sets of events touch on each other, but just touch, either could have existed without the other with only very minor changes to the text.
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On the issue of the two storylines that you raise gmw, I thought they did tie together. The ghost of Gordon was released, as it were, after he finally managed to get through to Susan’s machine with the vital information about Michael, thus for once doing something of real value for others instead of himself. Indeed, of value to all life on earth!
The two plots run more or less parallel, but are linked first and last and I think are managed quite elegantly by Adams. The monk found the door that linked back to Reg, hence his showing up at St. Cedd's on the critical night - otherwise, that might have been a little too random. And as Bookpossum points out, the ghost of Gordon was key to the resolution.

I think this structure is paralleled in the two Coleridge poems; I read the ghost as an Ancient Mariner figure and of course the slimy wiggly things had their origin in that poem. I need to reread both poems more closely now that I'm done.

My own real issue with the resolution is that it's an example of people (almost) doing something fatal that any dunderhead on the sidelines knows is a very. bad. idea., like the girl who decides to explore the deserted house in the dead of the woods, on her own. Anyone who's been exposed to the Twilight Zone, as an earlier example, knows that aliens do not have man's best interest at heart. Reg wouldn't save the dodo, but was going to give the ghost another chance? There's no eyeroll big enough.

I was blindsided, however, in that I confidently expected the time-changing agecy to be used to undo Gordon's death, especially as it resulted from the time-travel aspect itself. But that would have been an example of the Hitler paradox, so I clearly didn't think that through.
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Old 10-16-2019, 08:04 AM   #15
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I wonder if the title could have reflected an original intention to make this the first of a series, rather than just a twofer?

How about The Horse in the Bathroom?
The horse works for me.

Actually, speaking of the horse, I guess we must presume it's actually a mechanical thing, much like the Electric Monk, otherwise it would need scuba gear like Wenton-Weaks did at the end. One can't help but wonder what becomes of them after they were "taken home".
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