I don't enjoy thinking this about work by one of my favorite authors, but I just finished re-reading Douglas Adams's 1988 Dirk Gently novel, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, and mainly I'm thinking there are reasons I hadn't re-read it at all until now*.
I know I read it when it came out. I stumbled upon it on s front rack at Waldenbooks at Tysons Corner Center, one of the malls in Virginia I'd go to, and I'd been frustrated and out of sorts at the time plus I didn't really like malls — it was fall 1988 and I was a moody 9th-grader good at finding things to be annoyed about — and a novel I'd completely forgotten was coming out had come out. I bought it. I read it that weekend, and back then I was a slower reader than now; this might have been the first time I finished a novel that quickly. The book, at that time, made me feel better.
That said, I'll call it: The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul is my least favorite Douglas Adams book, by a stretch. Even with the issues his fifth Hitchhiker's Guide novel, Mostly Harmless, has, I kind of respect it. This book simply, now, feels random. Messy. Padded. Badly-paced, too; very little happens in it for large chunks of pages. And with as tight, clever, and idea-packed as his first Dirk Gently novel, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, had been the year before, this was particularly disappointing.
I'd remembered a fair number of details from the novel from that one reading, such as main character Kate Schechter and a) her quest for delivery pizza in London and b) her time in two different hospitals, one as a patient and one as a person asking questions of what was going on in that second hospital; Dirk's war of wills with his building's cleaning woman over a messy fridge; a large annoyed hawk showing up; and an alternate Earth that, once you know about it, is easier to cross into than you'd think. But the language is loose like an earlier, un tightened draft and the plot seems a little pointless. That happened. (No, I'm not dick enough to spoil it.) Does Dirk's I Ching calculator really add anything to the story? And the tone, trying to be matter-of-fact about the outlandish, becomes kind of ho-hum.
Douglas Adams was and is huge to me. He led me to Neil Gaiman who led me to Caitlín R. Kiernan and hell, Kiernan and other people on a fan board where they'd link to their blogs led me to set up this blog, so I might be a blogger because of his indirect influence. More directly, when junior-high-age me and high school me was trying to write short stories, like this, I was reeeeeeeally trying to sound like him. (Even more painfully imitative of him was another short story I did in that era, I forget exactly when, where I flat-out ripped off Hitchhiker's "screaming in pain at Vogon poetry" scene, only instead of Vogon poetry my character is screaming in pain at the film Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.) I revisit Adams. I have my copy of his sad, lovely non-fiction book Last Chance to See, about endangered and threatened species. But I won't be revisiting this second, and last-to-be-completed, Dirk Gently novel.
* Really, I've read it straight through only twice, decades apart: then and now. At most I glanced at passages in the hard cover copy I had for years. I've since lost that copy, so I borrowed an ebook of The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul through my library.