Worst. Person. Ever. by Douglas Coupland

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I couldn’t finish this book. Really, I just couldn’t. Somewhere around page 150 I flicked forwards and saw more of the same and I just could not be bothered. I’ve read every one of Coupland’s previous novels. That’s 14/15 of ’em? And whilst he is, I think, inconsistent, he has long been someone who I will always always read. Of course it’s all subjective, but, for me, when he gets it right he’s not just spot on and zeitgeisty, he’s also a writer of depth. My favourite novel of his is Hey Nostradamus! Worst. Person. Ever is definitely my least favourite. It is, apparently, “written to be funny. That’s all it’s about. It’s not going to give you special meaning about the universe.” which is fine and dandy, as long as it can sustain the humour. 

It’s written from the perspective of Raymond Gunt (ooh, look, I nearly wrote Cunt) an unemployed camera man who agrees to shoot a Survivor type show in Kiribati. His despised ex-wife is his boss. He hires a homeless man to be his assistant as he has nobody else he can ask. He’s friendless, penniless, without morals, misogynistic, and chock full of all kinds of hate. 

It started well I thought, taking me by surprise with the hilariously descriptive line:

There I was, at home in West London, just trying to live as best I could – karma, karma, karma, sunshine and lightness! – when, out of nowhere, the universe delivered unto me a searing hot kebab of vasectomy leftovers drizzled in donkey jizz.

But x amount of pages of the same unrelenting, shockingly rude for the sake of being shockingly rude, prose becomes quickly tiresome. Gunt seemingly abuses an obese fellow plane passenger to death. He lusts after women in the basest of terms. He gets into trouble. He’s rude. Again. And then again. 

There are still some familiar Coupland moments. He describes a waitress as having “…her mind full of pseudonews” – that babble of 24 hours news streaming. He provides wry footnotes. He does write some bitingly funny lines. However, the novel read to me like a writing exercise: Write the most obnoxious character you can think of.  The hideous sexism was hard to cope with, even if it is meant to be ironic, it’s still hate. Ultimately though, the book bored me. Shame. 

 

The Circle by Dave Eggers

For some reason I always link Dave Eggers and Douglas Coupland. Maybe because they have long been my two favourite contemporary male authors. Egger’s latest novel “The Circle” definitely brings to mind “Microserfs”.  The Circle is an exciting, innovative, successful Silicon Valley company. Being employed by them is Mae’s dream job, and she is incredibly grateful to her best friend, Annie, for getting her into the organisation. We see the enticing offices through Mae’s eyes as she is given her introductory tour, taking in the freebies on offer, the glitzy, glamorous setting, the fun, the youth, the talent. She settles into her role answering online queries, determined to meet the high grade challenge on customer satisfaction and push herself ahead.

Her job quickly develops, and she keeps pace with additional screens and requests. She’s enthusiastic and happy. She socialises on the work campus, sometimes she even sleeps in one of the dorms. The Circle seems to be modelled on Google and Facebook. It integrates all internet activity so that it runs zings (tweets), searches, financial transactions, tracking, and beyond. Mae meets a guy who is doing interesting work in the field of child security. The company aims for some unclear “completion”. Its ethos is very much one of transparency, and it sets up cameras all over the world, constantly recording, reporting, watching.

“If you aren’t transparent, what are you hiding?”

All employees are given health monitors they wear on their wrists. The company cares for them. The company cares for all, including Mae’s dad who has MS and who the company begins to treat, putting up cameras all over her parent’s house to continually monitor him.

As I read I realised how Facebook began to automatically download pictures from my iPhone recently, and how Spotify shares information about what music I listen to. How I’m wearing a FitBit flex, not a million miles away from a health bracelet. How easy it is to know such a lot about me via Google. I have always been equal parts blasé and cautious about the information I share. Or, at least, I had supposed I was. Reading this made me want to immediately delete my social media profiles and run the hell away from the internet. But that moment passed, and I facebooked how I liked this book, and I’ll tweet this blog post, and I’ll post my review on waterstones.com.

Mae’s ex says to her:

“No one needs the level of contact you’re purveying. It improves nothing. It’s not nourishing. It’s like snack food.”

This is true. It seems harmless, but is it? We watch as Mae gets sucked deeper into The Circle, and we hope that she’ll be ok.

I really enjoyed this novel. The ex who likes to make one off pieces of art seemed a wee bit of an obvious foil to the giant corporation, and Annie’s heritage sounded like a clear plot device to me the second it was mentioned, but they are minor niggles about what is not only an engaging story, but a thought provoking read.

Read it and delete.