Sunday, October 30, 2016

Weird & Wonderful- Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

For the October meeting of City Lit's Weird & Wonderful bookclub, we discussed "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency" (1987) by Douglas Adams.

Plot-wise, the novel is a bit of a tangle, involving time travel, ancient aliens, ghosts, clairvoyant detectives, and Samuel Coleridge (among other things), but we found it worth reading page-by-page just owing to Adams' style. Notes and possible spoilers below:

We started out talking about the history (and future) of Adams' work in various formats and adaptations, noting that he & his work are known for extreme flexibility and many different versions. That led us aside for a second to talk about the trailer for the upcoming film "Arrival", which is a (possibly disastrously) Hollywoodized take on Ted Chiang's superb short story "Story of Your Life", which Weird & Wonderful read a while back.

We also noted that Adams recorded an audio version of the book, which was highly praised by those who encountered it that way.

All of us found the novel very loose and not very well tied-together, including some pretty big plot holes (or at least shakiness). One of the larger plot problems at the end, it turns out, was noted by early readers and Adams responded, basically saying "it made sense in my head, and we'll fix it in future adaptations".

This plot made WAY more sense upon learning that Dirk Gently started as a Dr. Who story, and then had all the Whovian material untimely ripped from its pages. Totally makes sense!

A ROMP and A LARK, we termed it, and find this quite satisfactory under those categories.

We did like aspects of how the supernatural elements worked here, being a bit surprised that it was kind of a classic ghost story (albeit in a strange setting).

Say this blanket represents all the matter and energy
in the universe, okay?
I have to wonder if the idea of the "holistic detective agency" and the interconnectedness of all things approach to solving mysteries were perhaps inspirations for "I Heart Huckabees" (2004), whose "existential detectives" share some parallel theories.

Talking about both Dr. Who and the mystery/detective genre led us, by way of Moffat, to talking about the many incarnations of Sherlock Holmes (with a shout-out to the Every Frame a Painting on Moffat's version's use of texting), and discussion of our favorite Sherlocks. I'm more of a Peter Cushing man, but Rathbone is hard to beat. Also we noted the Martin Freeman crossover--Watson in the new Sherlock, and also Arthur Dent in the latest "Hitchhiker" adaption.

The detective aspect of this, and the very television-serial looseness and out-of-the-blue exposition at the end, led us to bring up "Scooby Doo", "Matlock", and "Murder She Wrote".

Brief discussion of Adams' fascination with Apple computers--some of the characters here feel a bit Steve Jobs-ish--and the sadly short but fascinating idea about "the music of nature".

The combination of good sentence-by-sentence writing with shaky/porous plotting led us to talk a lot about the relationship between all the interesting things a story can do (stylistic, thematic, etc.) having to hang off a well-constructed plot to work well. "Dirk Gently" weirdly parallels "The Bone Clocks" that way, which we discussed last month. We noted a mutual fascination with stamp-collecting in both.

Also had a long discussion of authors with some similarities to Adams, including Christopher Moore (especially "Fluke, or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings"), Neil Gaiman (collection "Fragile Things" recommended), and most especially Terry Pratchett. Highly, highly recommend checking out the Discworld books, which do a lot of the same humorous things that Adams does, but tied to stronger plots. Check out this cool infographic on getting into the Discworld books--I'd highly recommend "Guards! Guards!" or "Equal Rites" for starters.

We also mentioned Adams' son Nick Harkaway, whose work is weird and cool and not super-similar to his father's, but I strongly recommend "Tigerman" if you're interested.

Fun discussion! Also, I was supposed to bake for the magic box for this (failed due to schedule problems and had to pick something up instead), but in researching for a possible Adams-related pastry recipe I stumbled on this Very British Story about Adams, a packet of cookies, and a train station.

Next time at Weird & Wonderful, we're discussing "The Island of Dr. Moreau", which I think is as far back as we've jumped in time. And thinking of time-jumping, we return to humorous Anglocentric chronomancy in December with Connie Willis's "To Say Nothing of the Dog". Keep up with City Lit on their webpage, they have lots of other cool events and bookclubs!

No comments:

Post a Comment