The great Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce gained some notoriety in the early years of this century by arguing that literary genres were unimportant. The imaginative vision an author wished to communicate need not confine itself to fixed literary forms. Whether Croce succeeded in showing his thesis true for Dante and William Shakespeare, his principal subjects, is much disputed among literary critics. There can be little doubt, however, that Croce would have rejoiced had he been able to see Douglas Adams’ new book.
Although officially classed as a mystery, the book might with equal justice be tagged a work of science fiction or even a speculative cosmology. The story begins in conventional fashion with a young woman named Susan who has lost a cat, in pursuit of which she applies to Dirk Gently, a detective of friendly manner, who advances bizarre ideas in perfectly straightforward tones of voice. To him, ghosts are as normal as clients.
That the unusual, even by Gently’s hardly demanding standards, is about to take place will be apparent to the reader by the second chapter. In it, a mysterious being named Monk--either person, computer, or unknown force -- suffers an attack of amnesia; the exact nature of its delusions will later figure heavily in the tale.
The scene then shifts to a charmingly portrayed Cambridge college, which numbers among its faculty an eccentric professor named Urban Chronotis, who understandably prefers...
(The entire section is 449 words.)