S-BOMB warning. That’s SPOILER-ALERT, for those less crude than I.
Last night I finished my first book in ages–reading, that is. I often feel a sort of guilt when reading, an urgent thought saying that if I have time to be reading, I have time to be writing. But the truth is, reading is an essential part of writing, so I’ve begun forcing myself to take time to enjoy the process once more (as well as to stretch my muscles with another book review). To that end, I picked up Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams. It is the first of two (quite technically, three) Dirk Gently novels written by this glorious, humorous man.
Dirk Gently is a curious man indeed. He is not inherently attractive, yet he is utterly attractive in the truest sense of the word. He is, as Douglas Adams tells us, quite like a car wreck. You do not wish to get too close, yet you can’t look away. A fascinating creature, and thus, an utterly amazing protagonist nestled calmly against another, rather subdued, protagonist, Richard MacDuff. Yet the story does not start with either of these men. It starts, quite simply, at what is quite probably the start of life on Earth, and slowly, eventually, the birth of slimy things with legs. The antagonist is hidden yet present for the majority of the novel, unnamed, an alien ghost plagued by these slimy things with legs and the need to undo that which has been done.
The story flows in an erratic-yet-smooth fashion, jerking your attention from one character to the next. At first, the lines are blurry, the subjects unclear, and time simply does not move in a straight line. On your second or third reading, you may find yourself searching for what you know to be hints, searching for the hidden clues that were so strange the first time around that should be so blindingly obvious this time–yet they aren’t. I have read this book a dozen times, and during the first half of the novel I still find myself trying in vain to straighten out the timeline with the events I know to be coming in the future. Yet I get sucked in the whirlpool of words and eventually find myself spat out at the end of the novel, all paths revealed, the world saved, free of charge.
Dirk does not take anything in a straight-forward sort of way. Instead, he takes an odd, sort of crablike gait, half circling things and eyeing them with apprehension, just in case he owes them money. He, in his own words, lives in what are known as hopes. No sane person would take in the description of his life and think it a very good way of living, but Dirk makes it sound glamorously wild. Utilizing his methods of deduction, he hypnotizes and interrogates Richard into giving him all the answers he needs to solve the impossible, assists a ghost’s last wish, discovers King George the Third’s time machine, and saves the day.
The thing I take away most from the book, despite my love of Dirk’s oddly fascinating methods of, well, everything, is Richard’s theory of the music of life. That numbers exist in everything, that our unconscious minds are geniuses that can calculate impossible maths in an instant. He expresses that if you took the numbers generated by natural life events, and then turned them into song, it would be the most beautiful music to our souls. And this reasoning resonates deep inside me. I love music. I love the idea of the music generated by a flock of birds. Interestingly enough, when Richard encounters the music of life in an alien ship floating about in the atmosphere, and Professor Urban “Reg” Chronotis, the time-travelling ancient don with the memory of a sieve, saves as much of the music as he possibly can… entrusting it all in the very capable hands of Bach. I wish I could meet with Douglas Adams to inquire as to why he chose Bach of all the available composers in history, what impression Bach had made upon him.
Honestly, of all the authors I adore, Douglas Adams has had the most impact upon me as a reader, author, and a person. He taught me how to laugh, even when laughing felt impossible. He taught me that things can be very grave indeed, but so long as you have your towel and at least a smidgen of your wit, absolutely anything can happen. And I truly do believe that.
Interested in Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency? It can be purchased here.