Marketed as “a deeply unworthy book about a dreadful human being”, Worst.Person.Ever. is actually not that unworthy. Written by Douglas Coupland, a very prolific Canadian writer and visual artist, this is a book that is written in the Biji style; a genre of classical Chinese literature that reads like a notebook of a person recording incidents of the believe-it-or-not variety.
Raymond Gunt, our protagonist (who, for the most part, acts like an antagonist) has enough incidents of the believe-it-or-not kind around him. He is an unemployed, middle-aged, B-unit cameraman who is about to be kicked out of his apartment when he is offered a job; to shoot a Survivor-styled reality show in Kiribati. Not only is he offered a job, he is given the option to bring in his own minions. As none of his acquaintances would have agreed to play his minions, he chooses a homeless person with whom he was in an altercation a few days earlier. Here enters Neal, a homeless man who lives in a Samsung cardboard — he is impressed with the quality of Samsung TV boxes and considers them the best form of shelter for homeless — on the streets outside a Russian massage parlour. He always carries a valid passport, though, for a chance like this. Despite being dirty and homeless, Neal is a bit of a ladies’ man and a diehard The Clash fan. Together, they board the flight from London to L.A. and then on to Honolulu and Kiribati for a journey filled with one spectacular misadventure after another.
Gunt is quite horrid; he kills a man — albeit accidently — by calling him fat multiple times and offering him his share of food, causing his blood pressure to hike during a flight. He is also the only literate man on the planet who misspells Harry Potter’s name and writes it with an ‘e’. He is not too big on tipping waitresses either. Though he does not seem like a godly creature, he writes letters to “The Gods” in his head, often complaining about the things that are happening to him.
It is evident from the very first chapter that in addition to being the “worst person ever” Gunt is also the most politically incorrect person and mocks everything from Duran Duran to reality TV to Billy Elliot to vitamin supplements and airline food. In addition, he hates hybrid cutlery and would rather stay hungry than use a sporf (sporf = spoon + fork + knife), a knork (knorf = knife + fork) or a spork (spork = spoon + fork ).
For a presumably polite Canadian, Coupland has written Raymond Gunt, a potty-mouthed Brit with enough mastery. Critics may say that this brand of irreverence is not new; after all we are living in the age of Seth McFarlane’s Family Guy and The Hangover’s many child-like men. I find this book and its characters a lot more endearing, however. Despite being a jerk, Raymond Gunt suffers from healthy doses of self-doubt, which make him more real and relatable. Neal has absolutely nothing but his confidence makes him almost fantastical.
The novel comes with neat little boxes throughout the text, explaining people, things, countries and music bands to the uninitiated, in a mix of Wikipedia-style language with a touch of sarcasm. There is really not much to the plot. The novel is more about the narrative, the dialogue and Raymond and Neal’s escapades along the way. Those who liked the British film Withnail & I and would understand this kind of storytelling, though it is a lot more lewd than Withnail & I.
Though the book is a fun read, it is a little too packed. There is so much happening at such an alarming speed that if you put the book away for a couple of days, going back to it and recalling everything that has happened before would be a tad difficult for some readers. Perhaps I am easily entertained or partial to typically profane British witticisms (I have spent far too much time admiring Malcolm Tucker and his inventive insults in TV serial Thick of It and the film In the Loop), but I find this book funny. I believe most readers will find it funny if they can disregard the gratuitously vulgar language. Funnily, I am not the type who normally overlooks linguistic vulgarity but everything that Raymond and Neal said did sound funny enough to ignore the expletive-laden language. In any case, flawed characters with their own sets of peculiarities — though Gunt has more peculiarities than Sachin Tendulkar has centuries — are a lot of fun to read.
Most of us, though familiar with our idiosyncrasies and nasty habits, make excuses for ourselves and think that we’re not all that bad. We always blame our road rage on other incompetent drivers. We blame laxity at work on bad bosses or unimaginative work (surely one must not seek creativity in a profession like accounting; creative accounting can land one in jail) and justify reciprocating with cheap gifts because that particular aunt was stingy when she bought our wedding gift 15 years ago. Raymond Gunt, the protagonist of Worst.Person.Ever, is genuinely unaware of any such flaws and firmly believes that he is a nice person. A massively flawed person so honestly unaware of those flaws is actually quite refreshing.
You will either love it or hate it; a middle ground is unlikely here. The book will probably not win any awards, but it will make you laugh out loud if dark comedy is your thing. As a pop culture enthusiast with an appreciation for English absurdity, I loved this book. The text is hilarious, wicked and oh-so-terribly English. What else can you ask from an unworthy book?
PS: If you wanted something more, there is a nuclear explosion in the mix to get rid of a Pacific Trash Vortex in the middle of that ocean. Yes, that is the American way of dealing with garbage.
PPS: When the book came out last year, someone (probably or a marketing staff minion) came up with a twitter handle of Raymond Gunt but it died an early death when they forgot about its existence after 16 measly tweets.
PPPS: Pacific Trash Vortex is actually a thing. It exists. It is about the size of Texas and some of the plastics in the trash vortex are so sturdy, they will not break down in the lifetimes of the grandchildren of the people who threw that trash.
First published in Sunday Guardian