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New Leaf October 2019 Discussion • Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams
#1  issybird 10-01-2019, 08:16 AM
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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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#2  issybird 10-15-2019, 01:14 AM
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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#3  CRussel 10-15-2019, 01:40 AM
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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#4  gmw 10-15-2019, 04:26 AM
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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#5  issybird 10-15-2019, 08:26 AM
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.

Quote gmw
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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#6  Bookpossum 10-15-2019, 08:32 AM
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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#7  gmw 10-16-2019, 01:40 AM
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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#8  gmw 10-16-2019, 01:49 AM
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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#9  latepaul 10-16-2019, 07:54 AM
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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#10  Bookpossum 10-16-2019, 08:07 AM
Quote gmw
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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