Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

My brain needed some exercise.

I got up at 3:30 pm yesterday, so 11 hours later I was understandably having trouble sleeping. Next to my head, on the bookshelf, I spotted my current read, which I had been looking forward to finishing. Really must stop taking my head off and leaving it on the shelf at night.

Douglas Adams is one of my favourite authors, so he’s now dead. The Long Dark Tea-Time Of The Soul was his last complete book that I had had to read. A few months ago, it had therefore been with a certain sense of positive-mindedness that I had picked it up and begun to slowly read it. I had known that this would be the final time that Douglas Adams would hit me with a completed masterpiece.

And right from the start, these words could only have been ordered so carefully by Adams.

The book’s opening lines:

“It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on Earth has ever produced the expression “as pretty as an airport.”

Airports are ugly. Some are very ugly. Some attain a degree of ugliness that can only be the result of a special effort. This ugliness arises because airports are full of people who are tired, cross, and have just discovered that their luggage has landed in Murmansk (Murmansk airport is the only known exception to this otherwise infallible rule), and architects have on the whole tried to reflect this in their designs.

They have sought to highlight the tiredness and crossness motif with brutal shapes and nerve-jangling colours, to make effortless the business of separating the traveller for ever from his or her luggage or loved ones, to confuse the traveller with arrows that appear to point at the windows, distant tie racks, or the current position of Ursa Minor in the night sky, and wherever possible to expose the plumbing on the grounds that it is functional, and conceal the location of the departure gates, presumably on the grounds that they are not.

Caught in the middle of a sea of hazy light and a sea of hazy noise, Kate Schechter stood and doubted.”

This book was the second of Adams’ two completed Dirk Gently novels. I read the first one on my latest flight to Auckland last September. (review here) It’s a good job I hadn’t read this one, partly because it comes second, but also because it begins with a big explosion at a Heathrow Airport check-in desk.

“The usual people tried to claim responsibility.

First the IRA, then the PLO and the Gas Board. Even British Nuclear Fuels rushed out a statement to the effect that the situation was completely under control, that it was a one in a million chance, that there was hardly any radioactive leakage at all, and that the site of the explosion would make a nice location for a day out with the kids and a picnic, before finally having to admit that it wasn’t actually anything to do with them at all.

No cause could be found for the explosion.

It seemed to have happened spontaneously and of its own free will. Explanations were advanced, but most of these were simply phrases which restated the problem in different words, along the same principles which had given the world “metal fatigue”. In fact, a very similar phrase was invented to account for the sudden transition of wood, metal, plastic and concrete into an explosive condition, which was “non-linear catastrophic structural exasperation”, or to put it another way – as a junior cabinet minister did on television the following night in a phrase which was to haunt the rest of his career – the check-in desk had just got “fundamentally fed up with being where it was”.”

Personification is another of Adams’ traits.

Reading this book over time never struck me as being a particularly good idea. Adams’ plots are complicated, with tiny insignificant events later becoming of huge consequence. His are the sort of books which one needs to repeatedly flick back through in order to check minor details.

“”I am not as other private detectives. My methods are holistic and, in a very proper sense of the word, chaotic. I operate by investigating the fundamental interconnectedness of all things.”

Sally Mills looked blankly at him.

“Every particle in the universe,” continued Dirk, warming to his subject and beginning to stare a bit, “affects every other particle, however faintly or obliquely. Everything interconnects with everything. The beating of a butterfly’s wings in China can affect the course of an Atlantic hurricane. If I could interrogate this table-leg in a way that made sense to me, or to the table-leg, then it could provide me with the answer to any question about the universe. I could ask anybody I liked, chosen entirely by chance, any random question I cared to think of, and their answer, or lack of it, would in some way bear upon the problem to which I am seeking a solution. It is only a question of knowing how to interpret it. Even you, whom I have met entirely by chance, probably know things that are vital to my investigation, if only I knew what to ask you, which I don’t, and if only I could be bothered to, which I can’t.”

He paused, and said, “Please will you let me have the envelope and the knife?”

“You make it sound as if someone’s life depends on it.”

Dirk dropped his eyes for a moment.

“I rather think somebody’s life did depend on it,” he said. He said it in such a way that a cloud seemed to pass briefly over them.”

That said, Dirk’s character is finely fleshed-out in this second story. He is by no means a hero – he’s poor, unattractive, rarely taken seriously, has to accept charity from a tramp and even gets beaten-up by a child.

Yet he has a remarkable talent for turning nothing into something. When lost, he follows a complete stranger’s car on the basis that they just might be going wherever he is. When his car breaks down and cannot be mended, he steals the mechanic’s truck, forcing him to fix Dirk’s car immediately in order to chase after him.

“”Ah, I expect you’ll be wanting to pay for that paper, then, won’t you, Mr Dirk, sir?” said the newsagent, trotting gently after him.

“Ah, Bates,” said Dirk loftily, “you and your expectations. Always expecting this and expecting that. May I recommend serenity to you? A life that is burdened with expectations is a heavy life. Its fruit is sorrow and disappointment. Learn to be one with the joy of the moment.”

“I think it’s twenty pence that one, sir,” said Bates, tranquilly.

“Tell you what I’ll do, Bates, seeing as it’s you. Do you have a pen on you at all? A simple ball-point will suffice.”

Bates produced one from an inner pocket and handed it to Dirk, who then tore off the corner of the paper on which the price was printed and scribbled “IOU” above it. He handed the scrap of paper to the newsagent.

“Shall I put this with the others, then, sir?”

“Put it wherever it will give you the greatest joy, dear Bates, I would want you to put it nowhere less. For now, dear man, farewell.”

“I expect you’ll be wanting to give me back my pen as well, Mr Dirk.”

“When the times are propitious for such a transaction, my dear Bates,” said Dirk, “you may depend upon it. For the moment, higher purposes call it. Joy, Bates, great joy. Bates, please let go of it.”

After one last listless tug, the little man shrugged and padded back towards his shop.

“I expect I’ll be seeing you later, then, Mr Dirk,” he called out over his shoulder, without enthusiasm.

Dirk gave a gracious bow of his head to the retreating man’s back, and then hurried on, opening the newspaper at the horoscope page as he did so.

“Virtually everything you decide today will be wrong,“ it said bluntly.”

Dirk’s appeal is not so much what he does, as how he works things out. Like the characters in the Hitch Hiker trilogy, he is more carried along by events, than one who shapes them. Even when attacked in his home by a giant eagle, it really is the eagle who does all the work. And this is Dirk’s most attractive quality – since he does almost nothing, any one of us could achieve the amazing things that he does.

If you’re going to read this book (and I recommend everything by Douglas Adams, but for goodness’ sake please read them in the right order) then you should know in advance that The Long Dark Tea-Time Of The Soul draws greatly on Nordic mythology, and suffers a painfully hurried ending.

Ah yes, Douglas Adams and his legendary broken deadlines. The last five chapters skip scenes, feature little dialogue, and are each only two pages long. The story is all tied-up, but so quickly that you do have to think about it. It’s easy to wish that Adams had been given a bit more time to finish things properly, but with his method of “writing backwards” to repeatedly compress everything, it would probably have resulted in less, not more.

So now, aside from his co-written dictionary-parodies The Meaning Of Liff and The Deeper Meaning Of Liff, I have only one more Douglas Adams book to read – the one he sadly died half-way through writing. The Salmon Of Doubt - not a novel, I’m more expecting a pleasant memory.

I certainly have taken to the character of Dirk Gently though, more than I thought I would – and if I’m honest it’s because I identify with him.

The more that I believe there is a God-written order to the universe, the bigger the coincidences (or Godcidences as I call them) that He seems to lay at my feet.

Meeting 610 from over 10,000 miles away in a lift, returning to Auckland on the same day that hospitalised Lionel asked for me by name, friends from 300km away unknowingly parking on my doorstep at the exact same second that I stepped onto the pavement.

These coincidences dwarf anything Dirk Gently ever encountered.

But then, Dirk Gently’s coincidences are always born out of mere logic – cause and effect. There are supernatural forces in his world, yes, but they are always bound by unshakable logic.

Whilst author Douglas Adams used to be a Christian in his younger years, by the time he’d begun writing novels he’d given it all up and bought the unworkable evolution myth. Like so many other people, he took logic to extremes – far beyond the extent to which logic naturally functions, and extremes which cannot accomodate the supernatural input of a god.

Logic is, after all, not actually a cause, only an effect.

God is a cause, not an effect. So no logic can ever give birth to Him. Therefore, they conclude, He’s impossible.

“Oh dear,” says God, “I hadn’t thought of that,” and promptly vanishes in a puff of… what?

Labels: ,

0 comment(s):

Post a Comment

<< Back to Steve's home page

** Click here for preceding post(s) **

** Click here for following post(s) **