End Date: July 26
Author: Douglas Adams
Pages: 307 (paperback)
Selected By: Elle Tea
“When a passenger check-in desk at London’s Heathrow Airport disappears in a ball of orange flame, the explosion is deemed an act of God. But which god, wonders holistic detective Dirk Gently? What god would be hanging around Heathrow trying to catch the 3:37 to Oslo? And what has this to do with Dirk’s latest – and late – client, found only this morning with his head revolving atop the hit record ‘Hot Potato’? Amid the hostile attentions of a stray eagle and the trauma of a very dirty refrigerator, super-sleuth Dirk Gently will once again solve the mysteries of the universe.” – from the Amazon summary.
Years ago, I read that Neil Gaiman’s inspiration for American Gods began here, with this novel. As a huge fan of Gaiman and Adams, I just had to read it, and, after having done so, I can say that American Gods may have begun here, but the two novels are not the same at all. And that’s not a bad thing – Gaiman’s novel is presented on a more serious note with much more extensive research having gone into the mythologies behind the gods themselves, whereas Adams’ novel is… well… it’s an Adams novel.
I don’t like silly, mindless humor (like Jim Carrey, for example), and though many feel Adams should be lumped in with that sort of genre, I have to disagree. There’s a level of intelligence and darkness to his style of comedy, which I would consider more dry than silly – administrators and leaders are often portrayed as inept, bumbling fools who succeed by a murky combination of their peers’ grudging acceptance and pure dumb luck (Dirk Gently himself, for example, as well as Zaphod Beeblebrox), and your average citizen ends up dragged into the tale through a series of unfortunate events. I love Adams’ stream-of-consciousness style and his clever way of asking rather serious philosophical questions while camouflaging them in brightly-colored, goofy packages.
“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”
On the surface, yes, this is a light-hearted novel about a woman who is in the wrong place at the wrong time and ends up trapped in the midst of an epic family feud which just happens to involve a couple of Norse gods. On the sidelines are a rather sinister lawyer, an equally sinister advertising exec, and a cynical, seemingly self-involved, entirely irresponsible detective. Added to the mix are an appallingly filthy refrigerator, a Coca Cola machine where no Coca Cola machine ought to be, a seriously pissed off eagle trapped in a kitchen, an I Ching calculator which calculates everything above the value of four as “a suffusion of yellow,” cross-dressing, a head rotating on a turntable (“Don’t pick it up, pick it up, pick it up – quick, pass it on, pass it on…”), irreverent horoscopes, and a bill for five cups of coffee and two croissants.
But if you get rid of the smoke and mirrors, you find the philosophical: what Adams has written about are the concept of guilt and the symbiotic relationship between human beings and their gods.
Dirk Gently’s supposed self-interest and flippant attitude cannot mask that he is entirely motivated by guilt: he feels guilty about the state of that horrid fridge and vexes himself over it so much that he completely forgets about a prior engagement, setting in motion his involvement in the entire story; his guilt drives him to speak to the child of a client, a child whom he might otherwise have ignored entirely; he flippantly steals a cup of coffee and then frets about having stolen it the entire time he’s drinking it (and talking to the nurse from whom it was stolen) and allows himself to be guilt-tripped into paying the nurse’s entire cafe bill; and in the end, it is his own fridge, the material representation of a majority of his guilt, which gives birth to a new god – a god of what? That’s right – guilt. (I’d like to also add here that guilt is not the realm of the truly self-centered; they don’t notice or care when their actions or words have impacted others – hence the reason I’ve referred to Gently’s self-interest as “supposed” and “seemingly”).
I know Esbe wasn’t thrilled with the way the Norse gods were presented in this novel. I’m a big fan of Norse mythology, as well, and just to play the other side of the coin I will say this: it wasn’t about the Norse gods in particular, and any pantheon would have sufficed for this tale; I personally think the Norse gods were used simply because they are easily recognized by modern people – just about everyone knows who Thor and Odin were, whereas most people would find it hard to relate at all to Ishkur and Marduk or Reshep and Osiris. In the end, any gods would do, because the question Adams is posing is much more general than it appears. The entire premise of The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul is that humans have needs, and we create gods to fulfill those needs, to make sense of things our poor wee minds just can’t grasp at that particular moment. But when we find the answers for ourselves, when our needs are fulfilled, we toss those gods away. They need our belief even more than we need the relief their temporary answers buy us, but when that belief is gone, what becomes of them? In Gaiman’s American Gods, the king of the gods takes matters into his own hands; in Adams’ novel, he is tired of struggling, tired of the rat race, and he just wants to retire into silence and anonymity (and, hey, bonus: clean linens!).
My only real complaint isn’t really a complaint at all: I knew going in that I didn’t like the following quality in Adams’ novels, but it’s not big enough to stop me from being a fan. Obviously. 🙂 My not-quite-complaint is this: his books always seem to throw you into the tale mid-story and then shove you right back out. It can be discombobulating at first, and it always makes me feel like I begin his books with a frantic scramble, as if I’m running madly to catch up so I don’t get left behind. We step into the story in the middle of these people’s lives… and they kick us out right when things are beginning to make sense.
With Which Character Did You Most Identify: Sally Mills, the nurse who dealt with our grumpy coffee thief with humor rather than harsh words or rudeness and who fixed his broken nose for him despite his larcenous tendencies.
Elle read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.
I really thought this selection was grand fun! There were so many serious and thoughtful insights scattered throughout the novel, all of which were presented in a humorous manner.
“A life that is burdened with expectations is a heavy life. Its fruit is sorrow and disappointment. Learn to be one with the joy of the moment.”
It was an easy read with a fast pace, though it did seem a little disjointed at times, if only because of the rapidity with which the story progressed. I didn’t go into it with as much of a philosophical bent as Elle, nor do I have as extensive a knowledge on the Norse pantheon and mythology as Esbe, so I took most of it at face value, and I wasn’t disappointed at all! As I said before, there is quite a bit of food-for-thought sandwiched between the silliness, but they’re worked subtly into the story, lending only the slightest bit of soberness to this otherwise hilarious tale. I think this book could easily be recommended to just about anyone: for those looking for a fable that teaches a lesson while masking it behind entertainment, then this novel will definitely get their brain’s gears whirring; and for those who just want something fun that will make them giggle (or chuckle, as the case may be) under their breath, well, this certainly worked for me!
“I’ve had the sort of day that would make Saint Francis of Assisi kick babies.”
I didn’t mind so much being thrown into the story, but I would have really liked to know what happened with Thor and Kate, and I’d like to know more about the god of guilt that was “born” at the end of the novel. So, I guess my only real complaint is that the ending didn’t feel quite complete; there was a resolution presented for most of the main points in the novel, but I would have liked to have seen some sort of closure or been given a hint as to what was going to happen to the characters we followed for so long.
With Which Character Did You Most Identify: Kate Schechter. I loved her humorous fixation with pizza delivery (or lack thereof), and I could relate to her easily (except when it came to the way she handled herself in her exchange with the hospital attendant and Odin; she’s a journalist, for pity’s sake – couldn’t she have been a better liar?!).
BillMo read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.
The Divine Ms. Em:
Where to even begin writing about this book..? I have to say I went through many different emotions while reading this selection – everything from “Are you kidding me?!” and “Did he really just say that?!” to “That is hilarious!” and “How in the world did Adams ever imagine this?”
Technically, it really ended up being between three and four cups for me, as it was well-written, imaginative, and unique. Would I read another Douglas Adams book? Probably not – but I am glad I read this one. Parts of this book are hilarious, and I actually really liked how it ended; it tied up enough loose ends – but it didn’t present everything in a nice, tidy little box.
Actually, the more I think about it, the more I like it… maybe I will read something else by Mr. Adams, after all.
There are many hilarious parts; a favorite of mine is his description of Dirk Gently’s navigation technique, wherein he follows anyone who looks like they know where they are going, trusting that he will eventually get to the right place. Another favorite is Gently’s philosophy that anyone can help him solve a case and provide him with clues as long as he asks them the right sort of questions – a philosophy that, as silly as it sounds on the surface, holds true throughout the story.
See? I like it more and more as I write this review.
Dirk’s fight with the eagle… his lurking refrigerator (which ended up giving birth to a new god)… the I-ching calculator…
Definitely. I will definitely read another book by Douglas Adams. I think. 🙂
If this had not been a Gigglemug selection, I wouldn’t have made it past the first 15%. In the end, I am really glad that it was chosen, because it turned out to definitely be worth the read.
With Which Character Did You Most Identify: The airline desk clerk. She seemed to be the civil-servant type who was just trying to do her job, whether that job involved selling airline tickets or just staying out of the way as a Coke machine.
Ms. Em read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.
Caveat: July was definitely not my month, so please excuse any errant thoughts or seemingly unrelated tangents.
Mr. Adams has an interesting writing style that I was either extremely amused or extremely annoyed by, depending on which scene I was reading. I enjoyed his descriptive narration despite being annoyed by the exceptionally long and illuminating scene regarding the obviously ridiculous feud over the obviously disgusting refrigerator. I must say there were times where I enjoyed being unable to determine where the plot would lead us; however, there were times when I think I maybe was lost because the story did seem slightly disjointed with no seemingly discernible point – I’m not sure if this was intentional on the part of the author, if it’s just the way the story rolled, or if the fault rested with me, what with having a lot going on this month. While there was a resolution, I’m not altogether pleased with how it was arrived at or presented.
While this is a Dirk Gently novel, I found myself finding him quite the inept antihero. He is by far a stark contrast to John Puller, who is over-qualified in all that he does. I find Mr. Gently to be the most bumbling, unreliable and inept sleuth there is. His method of detecting is merely falling into a situation. There is no real deductive reasoning or actual logic employed on his part. His unscrupulous methods of thievery, tardiness, and general lackluster behavior guaranteed that I hated Dirk Gently. I found him to be a waste of space and someone I would root for a timely demise. Alas, since it’s his series, there would be no such luck.
In contrast, the person who was not paid to be an investigator did more gumshoe work than the paid detective, and that was Kate Schechter. She falls into the situation with the Norse gods but takes the bull by the horns to understand her circumstances and the powers that influence them. Kate has a healthy sense of skepticism and cynicism that makes me respect her and had me chuckling throughout. I especially enjoyed her putting Dirk in his place and her interactions with Thor. In my opinion, she makes sense in a story that overall makes none. In fact, she is the only character that I even come close to liking.
I’m a fan of Norse mythology and Viking lore, and, as such, the depictions of Odin and Thor really grated on my nerves. Odin being an apathetic and lazy god at the end of his time (before his possible rebirth) who had no desire other than to have clean white linens to sleep through his existence is a disappointing depiction. By the same token, to portray Thor as an overgrown child throwing tantrums is aggravating and flies in the face of the lore of Odin and Thor. While they have a combative relationship, both act in such extremes it is hard to find any redeeming characteristics about either. However, by the end, I do feel a bit more empathy for Thor, even though he still comes off as spoiled child.
Alas, because I was truly out of sorts this month, I cannot devote more to a more thorough review. As I said before, there were elements that I enjoyed. However, overall, I hate Dirk and anyone else we encounter with the exception of Kate. It’s a silly read that worked me into amusement and discontent.
With Which Character Did You Most Identify: Kate Schechter.
Lady Esbe read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.