Review of modern fiction Review of previously published novel Unlikeable Protagonists

Disreputable. Person. Mostly? – Worst.Person. Ever. by Douglas Coupland

Worst.Person.Ever. by Douglas Coupland (Vintage Canada, October, 2013)

Douglas Coupland, the artist, is terribly famous, not only in Canada. He has won heaps of awards. When I was reading this novel he had an exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery which featured a giant head on which people could stick gum (they did – the smell and texture in the summer heat was interesting) and his exhibition was all over the newspapers. His sculptures are high profile and instantly recognizable. In The Guardian he was described as “…possibly the most gifted exegete of North American mass culture writing today.”

So I apologize in advance for what I’m about to say to all the fans of Douglas Coupland. I think this novel was supposed to be funny but I was not amused. I picked up on Coupland’s frequent angle of “criticism of consumerism” but it left me unmoved.

Characters I did not care for

Perhaps I was supposed to care about these characters throwing money around and swearing like teenagers and living a life of conspicuous consumption. But that wasn’t the case and I did not find the main character, “Raymond Gunt”, to be particularly convincing. He certainly did not come across as the “worst person ever” – though other characters in the novel call him that. (The question is, can a typical anti-hero be the worst anything, since anti-heroes are commonly identified by lack of strong traits, lack of control, as well as confusion and ambiguity.) But even if Gunt were depicted as a villain rather than an anti-hero, there were rather too many vague and sympathetic elements in the character to evoke a strong response in the reader.

Contrary to what one would expect from the book title or the blurb on the back, Gunt is not the worst person ever and does not set out to harm anyone other than pointedly taunting a fat man on a plane – who then has a heart attack. He is depicted as mostly drunk, high or in hospital from macadamia nut allergies. The other characters are caricatured and clichéd; a homeless man morphing into a movie producer and babe magnet for instance.

A weird plot

As for the other elements in the novel, the plot of blowing up the Great Pacific garbage patch (the Pacific trash vortex) with a nuclear bomb, is frankly, laboriously arrived at and implausible. And the ending in which the pretty woman turns out to be a man? Too pat and predicable for my liking. And there were too many disconnected themes – the end of the world, movie-making, weird tribes and islands, running footnotes on pop culture, the fork/spork/foon gag, and so on.

In the shoes of famous anti-heroes

If I think of memorable anti-heroes in novels I’ve recently read, these come to mind: the sinister Lionel ASBO by Martin Amis. And that terrible 18th century Venetian count, Minguillo Fasan, in Michelle Lovric’s The Book of Human Skin. And the suicide-obsessed delinquent Gabriel Brockwell in DBC Pierre’s Lights out in Wonderland. You want to depict anti-heroes? You will be walking in the footsteps of giants. The anti-hero character has been a staple of literature since Lázaro de Tormes appeared in 1554 – think of Harry Flashman, Jay Gatsby and Dexter Morgan as well. Judging by this novel – not his others – Coupland’s visual art is better than his writing. The title should rather be: Disreputable. Person. Mostly.

While I was disappointed in Worst. Person. Ever. I realize that Coupland has been a serendipitous discovery  – another famous author living in Vancouver, like William Gibson. An artist as acclaimed as he must surely have something to enthuse over amongst his 13 novels and short stories. I’ll just have to keep reading.

About Douglas Coupland

douglas couplandDouglas Coupland (pronounced kohp-lənd), OC OBC, born December 30, 1961, is a Canadian novelist and artist. His fiction is complemented by recognized works in design and visual art arising from his early formal training. His first novel, the 1991 international bestseller Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, popularized terms such as McJob and Generation X. He has published thirteen novels, two collections of short stories, seven non-fiction books, and a number of dramatic works and screenplays for film and television.

A specific feature of Coupland’s novels is their synthesis of postmodern religion, Web 2.0 technology, human sexuality, and pop culture. Coupland lives in West Vancouver, British Columbia. He published his twelfth novel Generation A in 2009. He also released an updated version of City of Glass and a biography of Marshall McLuhan for Penguin Canada in their Extraordinary Canadians series,

He is the presenter of the 2010 Massey Lectures, and a companion novel to the lectures, Player One – What Is to Become of Us: A Novel in Five Hours. Coupland has been long listed twice for the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2006 and 2010, respectively, was a finalist for the Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize in 2009, and was nominated for the Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize in 2011 for Extraordinary Canadians: Marshall McLuhan. Read the rest on Wikipedia

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