A thousand thousand slimy things

I’ve just finished reading Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency for the first time since it was originally published. The copyright indicia tells me that was 1987, which would go a long way toward explaining why I enjoyed it so much more now than I did when I was… 12. I read and re-read the Hitchhiker’s books when I was in sixth grade and they opened my eyes to a much more sophisticated and elegant form of humor than I had ever seen on television, and Dirk Gently was an enormous disappointment. It was barely funny at all, and the plot didn’t really make sense. Why, the book didn’t even have a real ending!

I guess my seventh-grade mind just wasn’t ready for quantum mechanics and chaos theory. Reading it now I realize it’s an incredibly clever novel, a brilliant puzzle box constructed of words. I’ve been reading a lot of William Gibson lately, and his text tends to demand careful scrutiny because it’s dense and abstract; Dirk Gently requires scrutiny because it seems light and brisk, but every sentence has the potential to be laden with hidden meaning or unexpected ramifications.

But what does the Electric Monk have to say about it?

Well, of course he does.

16 thoughts on “A thousand thousand slimy things

  1. After Clown Girl and His Majesty’s Dragon, you’ve persuaded me to venture down the path of new and as-before-unknown novels… at least for me.

    I’m finding a lot to like in literature and film that I wrote off, earlier in my life. I suppose, just like our palate for food, our taste in media matures and becomes more attuned to the subtle sophistications. Or, we’re just more inclined to enjoy something because we gave up on trying to impress others with our ability to speak sarcastically about something that was either required or seen as culturally relevant/massively popular.

    Thanks for the suggestion.

  2. I always thought it would be neat for an author to uses not just English, but another languages in the same play-on-words approach, but would use different coloquialism to suit each culture. You’d just need to find someone with enough familiarity on both language and the culture to be able to parallelize from one to the other…

  3. My newfound appreciation has nothing really to do with changing tastes. It has to do with the fact that I didn’t really understand some of the theoretical scientific principles upon which the book is founded when I was 12.

  4. Dirk Gently is indeed brilliant, it didn’t seem that deep at first but it became clear as it went on just how much smarter it really is than the Hitchhiker’s stuff. I didn’t like the sequel as much though.

    Also, Dirk’s phone call to Richard when he’s sneaking into Susan’s apartment is one of the best pieces of dialogue ever written.

  5. The first and only time I had dealings with Dirk Gently was in audio cassette form while we were driving to California.

    So I couldn’t follow it AT ALL.

    I need to look into it and the Salmon of Doubt, but I may wait a bit, considering the cosmic angst the book I’m currently reading has put me in.

  6. It’s not exactly a deep secret, but a lot of the ideas for the novel were things that Adams had used in an episode of Doctor Who – Shada – that didn’t make air because of a BBC strike. It’s an interesting compare-and-contrast exercise to read the novel and then listen to the audio version of the show that they remade for the anniversary a couple of years ago.

  7. I should really re-read Dirk Gently as well… it hasn’t been since I was twelve, but certainly more than a decade.

    Also, Brandon, you know Salmon of Doubt doesn’t really exist as it was supposed to, right? The book actually published under that title has a few chapters of what might or might not have eventually become a real novel, as well as other writings collect after Adams’ death. Which is not to say it isn’t worth reading, but it’s not a novel. Alas for what might have been. If I’m remembering right, he was still struggling with whether or not it was actually going to be a Gently story, or something else entirely.

  8. While the posthumous collection published as _The Salmon of Doubt_ includes some incomplete material from a third Dirk Gently novel (in very early stages of writing, mind you), it includes a lot of Adams’ essays and speeches, some of which are quite interesting in light of well-known works such as _Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency_ – there’s an essay about Bach, for instance, and we all know how important he is to the novel. Well, if you’ve read it.

    My attitude towards Dirk Gently mirrored Jeremy’s almost exactly; I didn’t quite get it back when I was first devouring Adams in the fifth or sixth grade, for precisely the same reasons, but I returned to it around the time of Adams’ death and found it brilliant. Curiously, I liked the second one (_The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul_) from the start, though now I find the first novel to be the more intellectually rewarding of the pair.

    If you like the diversity of Douglas Adams’ output, allow me to put in a very strong recommendation for Stanislaw Lem.

  9. When Adams said So Long, he /meant/ it. As in, ‘no, really, don’t read my next book! I’m warning you!’

  10. The Dirk Gently novels have always been among my favorites, precisely because they can be read as light, absurd entertainment or substantial, meaningful books.

  11. wow, this is more or less identical to my experience vis-a-vis Hitchhiker’s Guide/Dirk Gently! right down to the part about being 12 years old, even.

    …well, identical up until the second paragraph, because god only knows where I abandoned that copy of Dirk Gently when I firmly decided halfway through to never read it again.

  12. Coincidentally, I just finished reading Hitchhiker for the first time a few days ago. The whole time I was reading it I was thinking, this is funny, but would have been hilarious to 13 year old me. The comedy had a Monty Python vibe to it that I couldn’t shake. I’ll probably continue on with the rest when I come across them at Half Price Books since it all went very quickly and was still pretty funny.

  13. Stanislaw Lem is great. Terminus, the last story of Tales of Pirx the Pilot, is possibly my favorite short story.

  14. I had much the same experience when re-reading Gently a few years back. However, set against that, The Dark Teatime of the Soul was quite a disappointment.

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