Book review: Worst. Person. Ever. By Douglas Coupland

Our appetite for rubbish of all kinds stokes a curiously amiable satire of greed and excess

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

For a writer labouring under the heavy baggage of "spokesperson for a generation", the title of Douglas Coupland's new novel bears a weighty responsibility. You're hoping he's going to deliver the goods, lock, stock and two smoking barrels and that the clever, catchy come-on does not disappoint. For in this digitally slippery age of open access, nefariousness and instant pronouncement, the candidates for the titular label are legion.

Get this book at the discounted price of £13.99 from The Independent Bookshop or call 0843 0600 030

Back in the Nineties, Coupland wrote Generation X which gave a tag to the dispossessed burdened with McJobs and a pick'n'mix of expectation and inertia amidst pungent discourses on issues like "Dead At 30 Buried at 70". It spawned further novels charting generational and occupational anxieties such as Microserfs and JPod, characterised by winsome reflection, witty aphorisms and a tidal flux of despair leading us back to Generation A: his previous novel where, ironically in alphabetical terms, bees are extinct.

Worst. Person. Ever. attempts to lockdown and water-board the 21st century media "type". Raymond Gunt (the rhyming slang is fairly obvious) is a down-at-heel B-unit cameraman whose latest job is filming reality TV show Survival on a remote Pacific Island. He's a decent chap, he explains, "who always does the right thing" – it's the world which dumps on his good intentions. In reality, he's supersaturated with stimuli, wretched and unwieldy with appetite.

He encounters Neal, a homeless denizen of the streets of London, "singing eighties pop tunes in the key of Hepatitis C", who arm-locks Ray and forces him to sing along to "Don't You Want Me" by The Human League. Through a shared love of crap songs, Ray decides to employ Neal as his sidekick, his ass kick: the distinction is blurred, and he turns out to be as priapic as he is peripatetic.

On the plane to the Pacific, Ray mercilessly teases the grossly overweight passenger next to him – who happens to be Survival's producer, who then dies of a heart attack. They fly over the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a vortex of marine litter twice the size of Texas which the Americans decide to disperse by detonating a nuclear bomb over it – "like 9/11 except more James Bondy" - resulting in a worldwide crisis. Everyone blames Ray: "life throws up these cruel existential puzzles". The TV show never gets made.

The novel is a scatological bun-fight of excess and debauchery, of juvenile humour peppered with bilious rage at the state of the world. Random events follow their own twisted logic in a Loony Tunes Apocalypse Now of spectacular chemical sunsets, orgiastic parties and people hiding valuables up their bottoms. Interspersed in the narrative like the hum of tinnitus are Wiki-pedant paragraphs of mostly useless information: "The UN building in NYC is the only place in all of North America where smoking is still permitted indoors."

It's riotous, frequently very funny and Ray, "a repulsive waste of self-important protein molecules", is not unsympathetic in his robust missionary position on life, his fractious moralising, his unreflective lusts. Global warming, America solving problems by dropping bombs, game shows, TV executives, rampant consumerism: these are easy targets, but there's a tremendous vitality to the storytelling and genuine humour in the intricately constructed set-ups.

Gunt is a farcical anti-hero in a novel more stand-up than satire, more Despicable Me than American Psycho. I can't locate very much seriousness, but I certainly enjoyed trying.

Comments