The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams

Read 2020
Recommended for fans of Douglas Adams
 ★     ★ 

Almost entirely, but not quite, unlike tea–I mean, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. There is no way easy way to say this, but despite ingredients that should be interesting, it just fails to work for me. However, unlike American Gods, which resembles it more than a bit, it is entirely more palatable and has 100% less offensive scenes, so there is that (I may have some trouble with statistics here). Nonetheless, because it is contains some Douglas Adamsisms that have stuck with me through the years, it still had moments of brilliance. Take his airport rule, for instance:

“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.”

This is true. There is nothing about any airport that is pretty. Most people there are indeed tired and cross, which is why when they discover that their plane has been delayed, or cancelled, or erupted in flames, they tend to overreact.

But an airport is just the beginning of roughly three separate plot lines, give or take; a young woman who is thwarted from a vacation to Oslo by a mysterious giant of a man and a fireball blowing up the check-in counter; Dirk Gently, a detective who is hired to protect an unethical producer; and a mysterious old man who would like to lay in bed and be gently catered to by a team of nursing staff. Dirk’s own adventures further degenerate into conflicts with a large eagle and a malevolent refrigerator. It’s all very puzzling mostly due to the narrative breaks and confused protagonists more than any real mystery on the part of the universe.

Having been a fan of Hitchhikers and frequent re-listener to Stephen Fry’s reading, I couldn’t help but see similarities between the lead characters.  Dirk comes across like a slightly smarter version of Zaphod and Arthur, a strange mix of lucky and clueless. I don’t know that he ‘solves’ anything so much as stumbles unto the solution. The young woman, Kate, is quite literally, taken for a ride and had some of the general non-descriptiveness feel that I always got from Trillian.  

Mostly, Tea-Time contains entertaining interludes and observations loosely connected by plot. To me, it works better in wacky unreal space adventures than in a mystery.

When I was young, I was an enormous fan of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I must have read it ten times. I bought whatever I could then lay my teenage hands on, written by Mr. Adams. But the Dirk Gently series never really gelled with me. Was it a window of interest? I sold off the first, but the title of the second was too, too appropriate to let go. For years I have thought of that saying, that mysterious four o’clock ennui of the soul (both am and pm) and thought that the book deserved a re-read on that alone, as well as notes on a driving technique which I’ve totally used (Note it works much better in rural areas and suburbs).

“Perhaps it would save time if he went back to get his car, but then again it was only a short distance, and he had a tremendous propensity for getting lost when driving. This was largely because of his ‘Zen’ method of navigation, which was simply to find any car that looked as if it knew where it was going and follow it. The results were more often surprising than successful, but he felt it was worth it for the sake of the few occasions when it was both.”

About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
This entry was posted in Book reviews, fantasy, Urban fantasy and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams

  1. T.W.Garland says:

    It’s a shame you didn’t like the novel. I thought it was really good. I agree with the American Gods comparison, although I would remind you, if anything Gaiman drew from this novel. Gaiman co-wrote a Hitchhikers guide companion. I do agree that Adams didn’t quite hit the tone of detective fiction, but I find the novel a welcome addition alongside Hitchhikers guide.

    • thebookgator says:

      Hey, thanks for reading! Yes, I know this was before American Gods. 🙂 (“Which resembles it…”) In fact, I feel like Gaiman extensively cribbed from this. At any rate, glad it worked for you!

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