A secondary-unit camera operator is recruited by a production company to help film a reality TV show on a remote island in the Pacific Ocean. Guess what? He’s not a very nice person.
It’s just possible that Coupland (Player One, 2010, etc.) might be angry with us. The wunderkind of the 1990s was dazzling in his early works, with provocative think pieces like Girlfriend in a Coma (1998), but the last decade has been hit or miss. For his latest, Coupland has apparently decided to go full-on gonzo, throwing every stylistic technique he’s ever employed into the mix and centering it all on a profane, drug-addled bastard repellent enough to piss off a congregation of saints. Raymond Gunt is our titular antihero, hired by his ghastly ex-wife, Fiona, to help film Survival, an elimination show being shot on the tiny island of Kiribati. Since the foul-tempered Gunt has no friends, he literally picks a homeless guy named Neal off the street and hires him to be his assistant. If you’re expecting a raunchy but good-natured comedy, you’d be wrong. Chapter by chapter, Coupland ratchets up the insanity. Neal chats up Cameron Diaz in first class while Gunt fumes in coach. Drugs are ingested regularly, and blackouts are frequent. Gunt puts himself into an allergy-induced coma. Twice. Later, he’s held hostage by a spiteful Army officer and made to dance “The Angry Dance” from the musical Billy Elliot. And then there’s that small matter of triggering a nuclear war. “Well then. We’ve all been in a pickle at least once in our lives, haven’t we?” Gunt asks. “One is born, one grows up. One gets in a pickle. The pickle is resolved, and then one dies. Snap!” It’s this kind of smarmy voice that makes the novel hard to take in large doses, but readers with strong stomachs may find some caustic humor here.
Did we need transgressive fiction offered as arch comedy? It’s a bit like Irvine Welsh writing a sitcom.