Top positive review
Dirk II: The Stupefying Sequel
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!