Hello and welcome to Friday! It is Friday, right? I have had me a heck of a busy week. So busy with actual adventures and such that my “sit on the couch and read” time has been a little limited. I have basically one thing to recommend this week, but it’s so good, so so good that it will hopefully make up for the brevity of the column.
I first read Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency at the age of about 11 or so. I should rather say that I had it read to me, by the author Douglas Adams, on a series of cassette tapes that I had taken out of the library. Having read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy a year before — which remains one of my favourite books to this day — as well as all the sequels that had been published to that date, I wanted to see what else Adams had written. As I lay in my bed listening to the book, Adams’ dry English tones wafting into my ears, I was transported. I’d never experienced a story like this before, one featuring ghosts and time travel and literature and murder and computer science and music and love and the ineffable mysteries of life; it was funny and shocking and thought-provoking, and I was transfixed. It was a very special book, and when I read it again years later (in print), it still held that spark.
Cut to me, two decades later, going through my bookshelf and trying to find something to re-read to see if it was worth keeping. I pull Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency off the shelf, and think to myself, “I remember this being a pretty great book. I wonder if it holds up?”
It holds up, gentle readers. Oh boy, does it hold up.
Adams is a strange beast of an author. Neil Gaiman once called him a futurist that stumbled into writing novels, and Dirk Gently really highlights this view of the writer. There are chunks of the book that seem like Adams discovered an interesting new scientific or technological idea that he wants to share with the reader, and then crafted the story around the idea, something that another of my favourite futurist writers, Warren Ellis, tends to do. But while Ellis is sometimes content just to have that idea be the entire point of the story, stripped clean and mounted so it shines like a brilliant jewel, Adams surrounds it with whimsical characters and fantastic ideas that highlight just how weird and wonderful the idea really is. And with Dirk Gently being a “holistic detective” — someone interested in the interconnectedness of all things — as the book goes on, the seemingly unrelated plot threads and detours all converge, showing that one can’t have the wonder of the fantastic without the wonder of the rational and scientific. In fact, it’s all the same thing.
I could go into the plot of the book a little more, but the story breakdown isn’t the point. The point is the characters and how they do what they do, and more importantly, why. It’s a funny mystery that features literary references to Samuel Taylor Coleridge and an Electric Monk, a robotic assistant that saves one the trouble of believing things. It’s fun and funny and beautiful, and even after re-reading it now I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with quite the same feel or impact. It’s brilliant.
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That’ll do it for me this week. Until next time, maybe step away from the pop culture and have an adventure. It can sometimes help to focus your vision on the truly great stuff. I’ll see you in seven days.