P. Aaron Potter's Reviews > Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams
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Mar 24, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: favorites, scifi, read-more-than-five-times, future-youngling-reading

It's all about the couch.

Allow me to elucidate. Doug Adams book. Funny? Sure. Satirical? Check. But would you have guessed intricately plotted?

Adams, who practically invented the vein of British literary humor now being minted hand-over-fist by Terry Pratchett, is in fine form with this novel, his major work outside the Hitchhiker's universe. We get the same bumbling protaginsts, the gently affable quasi-villain, the apocalyptic-threat-which-is-not-a-threat, the deft one-sentence-paragraph narratorial asides. Check, check, and checkeroo.

But we also get something we can't have gotten in Hitchhikers, which was written in sometimes lightning-round single drafts, sometimes mere minutes before the radio-plays would hit the air. Under those circumstances, there was no way for Adams to think too far in advance. It had to be joke, bang, plot, joke, action, joke, exposition...and it shows in the number of times he wrote himself into a corner and then had to pull a Deus-ex-Machina out of the sky to save the narrative.

Not so in Dirk Gently, where tiny throw-away details become massively essential plot points late in the book, and all of the little details together topple into a eperfect, crystalline structure by the end of the story. The perfect example is the bit about the couch. At the beginning of the story, we see our poor schlepp of a protagonist working his way over a couch which has gotten wedged in his stairwell. Cute bit of physical humor, and in a lesser book, that would be the end of it. Instead, long about the penultimate chapter, the couch problem becomes a part of the solution to the whole messy apocalyptic threat mentioned earlier. It's a breathtaking bit of plotting, and I can't help but think Adams revelled in the chance to prove that his gift was not just the ability to make up rapid-fire absurdity, but to really master a novel, show it who'se boss, in a way which is entirely satisfying to the reader.
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