Dirk Gently

by Harry on October 6, 2007

Douglas Adams really wasn’t a good writer of books. Even the first entry in Hitchhiker’s Guide depends entirely on his ideas, not on his writing. He wrote for TV and radio, and for radio best. Fans will want, then, to listen to the BBC adaptation of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (with Harry Enfield in the lead). First episode should stay online until Tuesday night.



rilkefan 10.07.07 at 6:44 pm

“writer of books”

Why not “novelist”?

And I don’t follow your point about ideas vs writing – you mean his prose isn’t flashy? It seems light and effective to me. Clearly he can’t sustain interest when he runs out of ideas, but can any novelist?


Steven Poole 10.07.07 at 7:29 pm

I think Douglas Adams was a really excellent writer of comic prose. Maybe not in the class of Evelyn Waugh, but better than very many. Much harder than it looks.


CreidS 10.07.07 at 8:45 pm

Come on . . . how can you dismiss: “The ship hung in the air in exactly the same way that a brick doesn’t.”

It’s brillig!


Iain Coleman 10.08.07 at 12:02 am

Adams’ fiction novels are inferior to his radio and TV work, but Last Chance to See is a fine non-fiction work.


tennin 10.08.07 at 5:55 pm

I think Adams’ humor is heavily dependent on his rhythm and timing, which is excellent in every medium he’s worked with including and especially prose. The Hitchhiker’s movie included many of the same jokes as the books/radio/TV version but they weren’t nearly as funny because the timing was off.


Dirty Davey 10.08.07 at 6:58 pm

Adams was capable of writing great stuff; he was also a legendary world-class procrastinator and a writer who benefited greatly from rewriting his drafts.

The first two Hitchhikers’ books were at the tail end of a long rewrite process that started with the radio scripts; the first Dirk Gently book took large chunks of the plot from earlier scripts Adams had written. His best novels are the cases where even the first draft of the novel was a later draft of some earlier work.

The book of original radio scripts described Adams working on the script up to the final available minute, and typing on carbons–which required retyping entire pages after errors. This built-in rewrite process helped make the original radio material as good as it was (even if it did run up against deadline).

His later works suffered from two related problems: first, as much as he loved computers, writing in a word processor eliminated the need for retyping drafts, and eliminating technologically-required rewrites generally reduced the amount of rewriting and polishing that the books saw.

Second, his procrastination meant that the closing portions of the books were often written under a great deal of editorial pressure. Long Dark Tea-Time Of the Soul in particular suffers from this; if you carefully reread the final thirty pages or so, all the loose ends get tied up, but many of the resolutions are rather perfunctory. It’s clear that Adams simply hit a point where he was under orders to finish the manuscript as soon as was humanly possible, and that the book as a whole suffers because the latter bits did not have the opportunity to be rewritten and reworked.

It is a tragedy that he is no longer with us.

Comments on this entry are closed.