Oh look. A book about you.

Oh look. A book about you.

“Like you, I consider myself a reasonable enough citizen.”

If you’ve been coming to this blog for a while, you may recall that through most of 2014 and early 2015 I was working my way through the back catalogue of Douglas Coupland for a second time, having not read them in a few years. This is his newest book that I was saving up until the end and have now got around to it for the first time.

In it, Coupland seems to have set himself the challenge of producing the most horrendous protagonist imaginable. In Worst. Person. Ever. we meet Raymond Gunt (aptly named) who is perhaps the most intolerable, vile, racist, nasty, cruel, malicious, sexist, egocentric bastard who has ever walked the face of the Earth. He is a cameraman down on his luck, but he is saved by his ex-wife, who is similarly horrific, who gets him a job working on a Survivor-style reality show on the remote Pacific islands of Kiribati.

Unable to believe his luck, entrusted with finding his own slave personal assistant (as it turns out, in the form of homeless ex-paramedic Neal) and convinced that Kiribati will be home to many nubile young women desperate to throw themselves at him, Gunt packs and sets off to the airport.

But unfortunately for Gunt, everything quickly goes wrong and as the next couple of weeks progress, he taunts a man to death, suffers several allergy-based comas, endures arrest at least three times and accidentally becomes involved with the beginning of a nuclear war. He’s now stuck on Kiribati with no possessions, livid sunburn and his ex-wife while the world around him falls apart. Couldn’t happen to a nicer bloke…

Gunt is, as mentioned, unforgivably horrible, but somehow it’s not quite possible to hate him. I think this is partly down to the fact that he’s so utterly cartoonish in his horror that you don’t really believe that someone like this could live, and partly down to the fact that he always gets exactly what he deserves. For any decent protagonist, you’d feel pity when he’s being forced to perform the “Angry Dance” from Billy Elliott against his will, or having to sit next to a morbidly obese corpse on a longhaul flight across the United States, but it seems just and right, here. He delights in being malicious and rude, and all the while remains utterly convinced that he is a decent, normal person and that the universe is conspiring against him to make his life a living hell, unable to see that he’s causing most of his own problems.

He selects Neal as his assistant because he is homeless and will probably do exactly what Gunt says, but another layer of humour is added when it turns out that once he’s been shaved and scrubbed, Neal is hugely attractive, intelligent, charming and loved by everyone he encounters. He is the perfect foil, effortlessly being everything that Gunt wants to be.

The usual Coupland tropes are all here; there’s hints at the end of the world, huge numbers of brand names mentioned, and smart little asides, in this case dealing with companies, songs and locations mentioned that might not translate to an international audience. Even these start off reading like Wikipedia entries and slowly become more sarcastic and rude as the novel progresses.

You don’t want good things to happen to Gunt – I would have been annoyed if he’d reached the end happy – but it’s not possible to quite hate him in the way one hates, say, Dolores Umbridge or Holden Caulfield. Coupland is smart enough to give us an anti-hero we can enjoy watching bring about his own end, because watching someone unpleasant destroy themselves is somehow all the more satisfying.

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