Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency – Douglas Adams

This book by Douglas Adams is as crazy as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The only difference is that while Hitchhiker’s is completely crazy, Dirk Gently is crazy with a more organised plot. Douglas Adams has a wacky sense of humour which I love! It’s best illustrated by the Electric Monk in this book. This is how he describes it.

The Electric Monk was a labour-saving device, like a dishwasher or a video recorder.  Dishwashers washed tedious dishes for you, thus saving you the bother of washing them yourself, video recorders watched tedious television for you, thus saving you the bother of looking at it yourself; Electric Monks believed things for you, thus saving you what was becoming an increasingly onerous task, that of believing all the things the world expected you to believe.

In short, it was the electronic version of priests! People consulted it during stressful decision-making moments and it’s meant to comfort them saying they’re doing the right thing, although it may be the worst thing to do. The things this device does throughout the book is hilarious. The best part is that all of us have an Electric Monk embedded deep inside us. In a way, we’re laughing at our own actions.

The other Douglas Adams trait is his love for twisting the genres completely and creating a soup such that you’re stumped if someone asks you about the genre of this book. It starts out like a mystery, then it becomes fantasy, then science fiction, then horror and then a musical! No matter what preconceptions you have when you start to read this book, Adams bashes all of them up and ends up surprising you.

Just as he bashes up genres, he toys with real life events too. I love it when real events are woven into fiction and when real life mysteries are given a fictional cause. For example, let’s say there’s some real life event X and we don’t know what caused it. If I take up that event X and link it up in my fictional narrative and provide a plausible explanation for it, then that’s awesome. However, Douglas Adams takes up a seemingly insignificant real-life mystery and wraps it up into his narrative such that it becomes the central event that saves the entire planet from destruction. That’s right! Beginning as a simple murder mystery, the plot goes on to a stage where the entire human race could get wiped out (something he did within the blink of an eye in the early chapters of Hitchhiker’s!)

It’s a book that will keep rewarding you when you re-read it. I had to re-read several chapters to understand the missing links. Also, once you finish reading the book and read the Kubla Khan poem, you’ll understand how some elements of the narrative are also inspired from the poem. Kubla Khan has the germ of the idea that music can express the beauty of things. The music played by the Abyssinian maid is enough for Coleridge to construct the dome in the air. Likewise the ideas of Richard Macduff in the book, who believes he can compose harmonies from nature. And the three waves of circle which is the alien’s parting gesture is also there in the poem! These little points make you like the book even more!

His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

If you’ve read The Rime of the Ancient Mariner already, then you’ll enjoy this book even more! Adams doesn’t care whether it’s Coleridge or Wordsworth or Mozart or Bach – he picks on everyone!

The character of Dirk Gently, the titular character who goes about solving mysteries by believing in the interconnectedness of the universe, is a combination of Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Wodehouse’s Ukridge! Here’s what he says about his methods to an old lady who calls him asking why he sent her a huge bill.

“I’m very glad you asked me that, Mrs Rawlinson. The term `holistic’ refers to my conviction that what we are concerned with here is the fundamental interconnectedness of all things. I do not concern myself with such petty things as fingerprint powder, telltale pieces of pocket fluff and inane footprints. I see the solution to each problem as being detectable in the pattern and web of the whole. The connections between causes and effects are often much more subtle and complex than we with our rough and ready understanding of the physical world might naturally suppose, Mrs Rawlinson.

Let me give you an example. If you go to an acupuncturist with toothache he sticks a needle instead into your thigh. Do you know why he does that, Mrs Rawlinson?

No, neither do I, Mrs Rawlinson, but we intend to find out. A pleasure talking to you, Mrs Rawlinson. Goodbye.” 

And here’s another Dirk Gently quote that takes a dig at Holmes!

“Sherlock Holmes observed that once you have eliminated the impossible then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the answer. I, however, do not like to eliminate the impossible.” 

I’ll definitely recommend reading this book no matter which genre you prefer. It’s well worth your time and it’ll definitely open up your imagination. If you want to be a writer, it’ll show you that the possibilities with fiction are truly endless. After all, the process of writing fiction is the same as trying to solve an unsolvable mystery. It is as Dirk Gently says,

“Let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all.” 

P.S: There’s a comic book adaptation of this book that I’m quite keen to get hold of. I also got to know that there’s a BBC TV series that adapted this book. Keen to watch it after seeing this trailer!

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