on February 19, 2004
Kate Schechter should have taken the signs the universe was trying to give her. That's what she tells herself as she shows up at the airport for a trip to Norway in spite of all the warnings. Still, she is unprepared for the check in desk to be blown through the roof just after she misses her flight.
Meanwhile, Dirk Gently has hit a low. He has almost no money and no clients. Except the one he's forgotten about who promptly gets himself killed. Now Dirk feels responsible for not taking this guy's claims serious and wants to track down the green eyed monster. As if that weren't enough, he and his cleaning lady are having a war over who will open his fridge first, an out of order soda machine keeps appearing and disappearing, and he's being stalked by an eagle. What these seemingly unrelated events have to do with each other provides plenty of wacky entertainment.
I am still only mildly familiar with the books of Douglas Adams, and I simply must correct that. This fantasy novel was wonderfully strange and entertaining. The opening bits about the airport and Kate's trip had me laughing out loud. The laughs slowed down over the course of the book, but they were still plentiful. Maybe it's my normal reading of mysteries, but my only real complaint was an ending that was really more confusing then enlightening of what had gone on before.
Actually, I listened to the audio version of this book, read by the author. These can be hit or miss, depending on the author. Douglas Adams did an exceptional job of reading, throwing just the right tones and inflections in for the best effect. About the only complaint on this part was that the scene changes were so sudden and abrupt that it could confuse you for a few seconds even when you're paying attention.
Whether you get your hands on the audio version of stick with the traditional print version, this is a wonderful title sure to entertain. I must move more of his books higher up my to be read pile.
on December 3, 2002
While I agree with the consensus that the story is, indeed, humorous, convoluted, completely interconnected, and ultimately a confusing but inspired delight, there are plenty of reviews to that effect, so I shall narrow my focus to the specific format in which I purchased it, which is the Abridged Audio CD edition, read by the author, on which there are many fewer comments.
There are a few minor complaints about this edition. The six CDs packaged in a box of the size that, a decade ago, was used for double CDs, is novel, but the spindles hold the CDs to the tray so tightly that, removing them, one feels as if something's about to snap. The dynamic range is so great that, with any background noise at all (such as may be expected if listening in the car), the loud parts must be quite loud in order for the quiet parts to be heard. Though the cover boasts digital mastering, some high-end digital artifacts can be heard, the background squiggly sounds that one might hear in an audio stream at low dialup speeds. And, as in the case of the "Dirk Gently" audiobook, each disc contains only a single track of around 70 minutes. That last may pose a problem for listeners whose players return to the beginning of the track when stopped (luckily for me, my car player resumes where it left off); otherwise, these are, as I've said, minor issues.
On the positive side, it is a great pleasure to hear Adams' voice reading his own work. He may have been a careful and crafty writer, but he also wrote in style often closer to speech than to literate prose. There are a few bits of wordplay that work better when seen on the page; but, on the other hand, his multiple-appositive sentences are much easier to sort out when one can actually hear where the emphasis was intended.
I am not, generally, a fan of audiobooks -- not an opponent, either, but I do prefer the speed and lack of distraction of sitting down to read print. However, when there's time to listen, such as on the road trip for which I bought it, this particular book (and the book to which it is a sequel) is at least as enjoyable when read aloud by this particular reader as when I previously read the paperback. The sum of my experience -- which weighs the unimpressive format against the delight of Adams' performance, and, of course, of the story itself -- is well-represented by a solid four stars.
on April 18, 2002
Like it's predecessor, "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency", "The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul" demands a second reading. It's complex, often confusing, but never less than amusing. Both books display Douglas Adams' verbal wit, which will remind most of his ever-popular "Hitchhiker" books, but are more concerned with their labyrinthine and well-structured plots. And both books offer an ending that may not make sense if the reader hasn't been paying close (and I mean CLOSE) attention. The main difference between the two is that while the ending of the former was obscure *and* painstakingly logical, the ending here feels contrived and illogical. Like a good mystery novel, the reader should have been able to see it coming given the clues presented. In "Dirk Gently" this was true; it necessitated some research to fathom, but with enough effort the reader could make sense of things. Here, not so much.
That's not to say that "Tea-Time" is a pointless endeavor. It is, after all, a Douglas Adams novel. And now that the man is gone, we should cherish everything he's ever written. In their own ways they're all gems. This gem, however, has less of a sheen.
Once again, Dirk Gently is asked to save the world. Or rather, he's asked to not screw it up so much. He's a detective who believes in the interconnectedness of everything. This point is only sporadically touched on here, but is relayed at great length in the previous book. Pity, because Adams has constructed a narrative whose tentacles dip into a myriad of different subjects and storylines, all for the most part unrelated. But he does draw them all together, seemingly against their will, in the end. The drawback, then, is that the book becomes less a cohesive novel than a collection of eclectic ideas. I'd have loved to see how Adams further involved the electric I Ching calculator (a favourite tool of the Electric Monk maybe?) in the story. But alas it comes and goes all too quickly. The same can be said for The Great Zaganza, a horoscope writer who puts private joke messages to Dirk directly in each day's newspaper. Or Elena, the wayward maid, who's locked in a battle of wills with Dirk to see who will open his refrigerator first (Why? I'll never tell). These are all wonderful ideas, pregnant enough for a whole chapter (or a whole book) in Adams' hands, but nearly wasted here. Thankfully, there are enough of them to make a mild mosaic of mystery on which the narrative balances.
The book shares one of its main themes with Terry Pratchett's "Small Gods". This is not the first time I've favourably compared Adams to Pratchett, and vice versa. I suspect if you like the wicked wit and playful literary structures of one, than you'll adore the other just as much. Adams relies less on puns than Pratchett, and more on cultural mythology, but they were equally adept at deconstructing popular images to their own ends.
Before treading here I recommend a bit of research first. Read the first "Dirk Gently" book. Since Adams doesn't repeat his introduction and explanation of the main character, those unfamiliar with him will find Dirk's methods baffling. They are explained fully, just not here. Also, it might be a good idea to brush up on your Norse mythology before entering. No need to go too deep, just a trip to Valhalla will do. And finally, remember this: pay attention to everything. Nothing is accidental here. Everything matters. Everything is connected. Enjoy!
on January 12, 2002
I have read all the volumes of THE HITCHHIKERS GUIDE. In fact, I've read all of DNA's books including his nonfiction such as THE DEEPER MEANING OF LIFF and LAST CHANCE TO SEE. Of all the books, THE LONG DARK TEA-TIME OF THE SOUL is by far my favorite. I must add, there is no piece of fiction that I have read as many times as THE LONG DARK TEA-TIME OF THE SOUL.
Why would a person read this novel more that once? First, it is hilarious! The dialogs and interaction among the characters are well honed. This description of airports on the first couple of pages will induce everyone to continue reading. Second, the story and the underlying theoretical principles that guide the novel are quite complex. Thus, a person can read this novel ten times and still undercover an unanticipated wrinkle that sheds new light on the plot and subplots. Third, from an academic perspective, Dirk Gently employs an "ecological system model" as the centerpiece of his investigative tools. Gently's worldview represents an extreme form of a theory that student's commonly learn in college. Teaching the theoretical principles of the ecological system model is a stuffy and arduous enterprise. However, using Dirk Gently as an example opens the door for understanding among many college students. Back in 1991, I emailed DNA about how I was using his novel in class. He replied and was pleased with my efforts.
I love this book and feel sad that I will not have the pleasure reading more of DNA's work.
on April 30, 2001
I did not enjoy this one as much as "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency". I do have to say that Douglas Adams is an incredible writer and I have enjoyed all of his books. His has a wonderful sense of humor and is very intelligent, and it shows through in his Dirk Gently series. Like the first book, the story starts out with several story lines developing and slowly coming together for a climactic ending. It's up to Dirk Gently to solve the mystery of his late clients death and the mysterious explosion in London's Heathrow Airport that was deemed an "act of God". I was left feeling rather dissatisfied by the ending. I didn't understand why some things happened that did, and was left feeling confused and unfulfilled. However, I do not think that this is because of the book itself, but rather that perhaps I didn't devote the attention to this book that it deserves and requires. It has a very intricate plot and was very thought provoking. I will be re-reading this book to better my understanding of it, and I would love to see more of Dirk Gently in the future.
on March 30, 2001
This book, and its predecessor "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency", are heavily under-rated due to the major success of the Hitch Hiker "trilogy" by Douglas Adams. But in a way, they're the better ones. Especially this one.
I won't bother telling the story, because frankly I cannot. Now, I've been reading this book in about monthly intervals for years, but I still find something new each time, and I still have trouble keeping track of the story. Don't let that keep you, though. Yes, it *is* mildly confusing, but it all works out after a couple of times of reading, and it's great fun from first time, page one. Besides, it's worth the effort: there's many a topic for an evening of thinking in there.
But that's not what you buy it for.
Then there's the business of the Norse Gods walking the Earth, just like your average John Smith. Sort of. Thor naturally makes more of a nuisance of himself, but anyway, the notion of everything that the human race ever chose to believe in being true, and staying true long after we've ceased to need it to be true as well, is an astonishingly moving one. "Immortals was what you wanted, and immortals was what you got", complains one of them bitterly. And rightly so. What would you do if you were an immortal, omnipotent being whom no-one believes in anymore? Chances are, you'd sell your immortal soul to appear in a soft-drink commercial. Once you accept the fantasy part of it, it all snaps in place with logical precision, and even going to Asgard becomes an accepted way to spend the evening.
But that's also not what you buy it for.
The most outstandingly entertaining thing about the book is, of course, the humour, which is more like what you buy it for. Douglas Adams is an expert for making a pun in a couple of words and leave you laughing longer, and louder, than many other humourists could in an entire page. The incredible lightness of it all is only apparent if you ever tried to write humourous stuff yourself, and thus know how hard that is. No wonder that there are so precious few books from this author. And no wonder that many try to emulate him, and fail.
Still, this isn't entirely comedy, and that's a good thing, too. Yes, the Hitch Hiker books give a couple of insights into Life, the Universe and Everything as well -- but the Gently books give more of it, and more practically applicable examples of it, even to those of you who know where their towels are.
One of my favourite examples is the way that one of the (mortal) key characters, Kate Schechter, explains how her name is spelled: "Two E's, two C's, two H's, and also a T, an R and an S. Provided they're all there, the bank won't be fuzzy about the order they come in -- they never seem to know themselves." Okay, it's funny, but there's more to it than that: it's the kind of humour you can only really understand with a name like hers -- or mine --, which makes me wonder how someone with an instantly spellable name like Douglas Adams, of all people, found out about it.
All in all, this is everything you could want: Hugely entertaining, but in an intelligent way, and not boring however many times you take to it. A must-have-read!
on March 26, 1999
Two things must be said:
(1) Douglas Adams shouldn't write sequels. "The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy" and "The Resteraunt at the End of the Universe" are equal in quality because they really comprise one book; later books in the series, the true sequels, rapidly go downhill. "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency" was genuinely fresh and funny; the first sequel has gone downhill already. The book is NOT about Dirk Gently's holistic detective agency. At any rate, it oughtn't be. Strange things happen but no holistic explanation is to be found. Try Dirk Gently's Ad Hoc Detective Agency instead.
(PS: "The Meaning of Lif," another original work, is also worth acquiring.)
(2) Adams should start thinking up new titles that aren't pinched from the two hitch-hiker books mentioned above. Honestly! He might as well have a sticker on the cover saying, "No New Ideas".
The second star is awarded because Adams is still funny (although he was much funnier in the previous book), certainly more so than his immitator, Terry Pratchett. It's just that I've never seen him be funny in the service of so little.
on January 9, 1998
The story opens with an explosion at Heathrow Airport. This introduces the female main character Kate Schechter trying to find the Norwegian man she met there just before the explosion. At the same time, Dirk Gently gets involved in that case. He, as a private detective, firstly wants to find out what has happened to his ex-secretary Janice Smith. Soon, while the plot is unfolding, the Norse gods become the main theme because their power has decreased in modern society. So, one of the gods makes a contract with two human beings in order to be able to enjoy human comfort although he loses his immortal soul. As Dirk Gently believes in the "fundamental interconnectedness of all things", it all makes sense in the end.
Douglas Adams does not hand you the answer on a silver platter, though, so that some parts have to be reread.
The single events of the storyline are unpredictable, which makes the book so exciting, and the reader is guided by Kate and Dirk.
With great skill the author changes the levels of language where necessary and uses his English sense of humour. In the end, Dirk and Kate have improved their knowledge about the workings of the universe. What I liked best while reading were the various lines of action.
on February 16, 1997
Most people seem to prefer the more obvious slapstick of the early Hitchhiker's books, but I've found myself enjoying Adams more and more as he's matured. Many of the situations in this book are outrageous and silly, and there are plenty of the one-liners that are Adams' trademark ("It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on earth has ever produced the expression 'As pretty as an airport,'" the book begins) but there are very few passages intended solely for the purpose of eliciting a laugh. Everything's integral to the story, and it all makes sense in the end, although Adams doesn't hand you the answer on a silver platter. This novel is part social commentary, part Rubik's Cube (how DO those piecses fit together, anyway?), and part humor. It took me several re-readings to get the bit about the concentric circles on the eagle's wings, but it was worth it. If you enjoy exercising your mind through the contemplation of the absurd, you'll enjoy reading -- and re-reading -- "The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul."
on October 7, 1996
Much can be said of The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, most of it rather meaningless. After all, how many detective stories have a very dirty refrigerator as the key to the mystery and a detective with an 8th sense? The world of the gods has been drastically altered, and the realm of humanity has been adversely affected. Only one man can save both. Dirk Gently, super-sleuth. As is typical of Douglas Adams's genius, a series of seemingly meaningless and unrelated events turn out to be tremendously important...to the story anyway. Dirk has to relate all of these events to find out what is wrong, and an eagle following him down a street has a goodly amount of anger towards him, causing even more problems. Other...interesting (for lack of a better word) situations confront Dirk while on his quest, including car accidents, a man who had his head cut off and placed on a record player, and navigating a massive party thrown by the gods themselves. The situations, and the dialogue, keep the reader interested, as you end up asking yourself, "What the hell is going on?" Of course, they are also extremely funny. A rather interesting example, when Dirk is talking to Kate, a person nearly killed when the check-in desk at Heathrow Airport explodes, follows. Kate: "Well, this name here is Dennis Hutch, isn't it? See?" Dirk: "Oh, yes. Yes I do. Er, should I know that name?" Kate: "Well, it depends if you're alive or not, I suppose. He's the head of the Aries Rising Record Group. Less famous than the Pope, I grant you, but--you know of the Pope, I take it?" Dirk: "Yes, yes. White haired chap." Kate: "That's him. He seems to be the only person of note this envelope hasn't been addressed to at some time. Here's Stan Dubcek, the head of Dubcek, Danton, Heidegger, Draycott. I know they handle the ARRGH! account." Dirk: "The--?" Kate: "ARRGH! Aries Rising Record Group Holdings. Getting that account made the agency's fortunes." The entire book is full of these crazy, yet meaningful conversations. Put together, they make for a very good mystery, and a humorous one at that (yes, the conversation about the dirty refrigerator does have meaning, the first one with his secretary). Perhaps the greatest achievement of this book is the skill at which Douglas Adams creates situations that show how stupid humans can be, and how callous we are. Although there is not nearly as much of this as in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (also very funny) series, the ideas make you think, the universal trademark of a great book. They can be hard to identify, but they are there, if one looks hard enough. The above is why I like this book. It has real meaning, and it is very entertaining to read, something that can not be said of many books. I can honestly say that there is nothing that I dont like about this book. I would recommend it to anyone, especially to those who have a sense of humor that has been dulled by the daily routine of life. They will benefit most.