Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency – Douglas Adams

I recently discovered that Douglas Adams had written another series of books, not just The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and consequently spent a couple of years trying to find them in charity shops. The other week, I was successful, and found Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency in an Oxfam bookshop. Despite having promised myself not to buy any books until I’d finished the ones I had, I had to get it.

While I was back home with my family, I watched all three of the Dirk Gently TV adaptations that the BBC have done, with Stephen Mangan (aka Guy from Green Wing) playing Dirk. I thought they were pretty good, and were quite like a lighter and sillier version of Sherlock, but I was curious how similar they were to the original books.

Well, the TV series seems completely different to this first book in terms of the plot but also the characters. Adams’s Hitchhiker books have been adapted so many different times for different mediums, and mostly worked (apart from that film recently…). They seem to suit being adapted rather than sticking faithfully to the original. I’m glad that the TV series was very much an adaptation rather than trying to recreate the original, because it left those original stories unspoilt, waiting to be discovered.

I loved this book. It was like discovering a secret drawer in a treasure chest that you hadn’t know existed before. Adams is such a great author because he recognises that humour is inherent in life and essential to any successful story. Without Adams, we would not have Terry Pratchett today. I sometimes think that their humour is what made the Harry Potter books so successful. People tend to think of literature as a serious business, and anything that is funny gets sidelined and undermined. Adams is one of the few authors who has managed to transcend that boundary and be taken seriously, despite having a sense of humour.

I did a bit of research and it seems Adams agreed with me: “People have this idea that humo[u]r is in some way a sort of lesser emotion, which I don’t accept at all. I think that good, funny writing is amongst the finest writing of any type, which is why I think that Wodehouse is one of the finest writers who ever lived.”

There is a brilliant bit in the book, involving poetry, where suddenly something clicks into place, and I really loved that. It was worth doing a degree in English just so I can have that brilliant shining moment of recognition.

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The Life and Times of…

Read two tiny books that were in grandpa’s pile to be given away. They were both part of a series called The Life and Times of… and written by someone called A. Noble. One was on J.F.K. and one was on Martin Luther King. The series seems to have a wide variety of names, and oddly includes both Anne Frank and Hitler in the list of other Life and Times titles at the back.

The books are from 1994, but still informative. I feel like I know a tiny tiny bit more about American history now. It’s a shame I haven’t seen many books like this any more; these ones are beautiful hardback books around the size of a post-it note. I’d certainly find them useful because, as I’m realising, I don’t know a thing about anything.

Noble, A. The Life and Times of Martin Luther King. London: Parragon, 1994.

Memento Mori

Finished reading Memento Mori just now. I went to Edinburgh Central library in search of something to read, and one of the few interesting authors I could find was Muriel Spark. This one was weird, shocking and scandalous as she always is, full of unsympathetic characters caught up in adultery and deception. Some weird and questionable bits – I stopped short at the word “negress”, which I’m sure is one of those dodgy old words that people used to say without thought in the olden racist days – and also some euphemisms about paying and lifting skirts that are hard to judge whether I am being too innocent or too worldly in my interpretation of them. One character paid in pound notes and made me realise how old this book is (it was published in 1959). But it’s still compelling, and always great to see some realistic characters, both men and women: people who are selfish, treat others badly, and keep secrets. Affairs seem to be a prerequisite of literary fiction.

I had thought it was one of these ‘classics’, but it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. I’m not sure if it’s regarded as a classic book in itself or if it’s just famous for the title being the kind of saying that spawns endless internet screen names. Strange how it leads on from the last book I read, also about older characters coming to terms with their mortality, and partially set in a retirement home. Maggie Smith seems to have been in the TV adaptation of Memento Mori, as well as the film adaptation of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, but she also starred in the adaptation of Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, the role which began her career.

The main story of this book is about how a mysterious caller affects different characters in different ways, with their repeated telephone message: “Remember you must die”.

These Foolish Things

On the 29th of February this year, at around ten past 8 in the evening on the train to Edinburgh from Oxford, I just managed to finish reading The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, or These Foolish Things to give it its proper name before it was re-jacketed for the film release. A man in a suit who had been sat across from me on my right approached me as the train started slowing down toward the station, and asked if I’d finished my book. I told him I had and he was really excited. “I’ve never seen anyone finish a book before! I was rooting for you!” Nice that reading can sometimes be a spectator sport. And now I can’t remember whether I’ve ever seen anyone finish a book before.