Friday, 3 December 2010

Gently does it

One of BBC4's pre-Christmas treats is an adaptation of Douglas Adams' Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, which has previously been adapted for Radio 4 with Harry Enfield. Titled simply Dirk Gently, the TV version is scheduled to be broadcast 16 December and stars Stephen Mangan and Helen Baxendale, who's been missing too long from our screens.

DGHDA was a much-anticipated departure from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio and book series that made Adams' name - not least because the author tended to let time lapse between projects; he coined the phrase, 'I like deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.' (The Hitchhiker's trilogy was extended to a quartet by So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish in 1984, while a fifth book, Mostly Harmless, was added in 1992.)

Published in 1987, Dirk Gently allowed Adams to take flight with ideas of the interconnectivity of events - centred on a sofa impossibly wedged in a stairwell - while riffing on various comic themes, including why horoscopes never warn you when you're about to die. A follow-up a year later was called The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, while posthumously published The Salmon of Doubt (2002) is named after a draft for a third Gently novel that is included in the collection.

Haruki Murakami wrote his earliest works before the Dirk Gently novels were published but Adams' spirit can be felt in the Japanese author's freewheeling A Wild Sheep Chase (1982; 1989), Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (1985; 1991) and Dance Dance Dance (1988; 1994). The first date I've given there is the original publication, with the English translation to follow. Because of the lapse between them, Murakami can feel like Adams' spiritual heir to English-language readers, but he outstrips his potential mentor temporally and in terms of quality.

However much you may wish otherwise, the Dirk Gently books are overly meandering and comically weak; more deadlines should have been allowed to pass in their gestation. At an hour's runtime, the BBC may be looking for a successor to Jonathan Creek's quirky magical detection; tightened up from the books, there's no reason why Dirk Gently can't succeed, though I question whether Christmas party season is the best launch time, iPlayer or no.


  1. i thought the dirk gently books were comically superb. really meandering but also dead funny. the bbc4 thing was distinctly alright. i'll give Haruki Murakami a bash though

  2. Great, thank you for your comment!