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Dor Does Books

Oh, hai! I read books, then I write down what I think of them. 



None of *my* friends were this entertaining - Friends Like These by Danny Wallace

Friends Like These - Danny Wallace

In the note card system which passes for my memory, Danny Wallace's entry reads simply:


Friend of Dave Gorman(?)


Which is kind of weird when you consider that Wallace has not only done all manner of things, but many of them have cropped up on my radar. I've read Charlotte Street, his first foray into fiction (it's okay but nothing special. 3 stars); I've failed to watch Yes Man, a film based on Wallace's book of the same name; I've shouted random answers at the television screen upon which his gurning visage floated; I've read books by Dave Gorman, with whom Wallace is friends(?); and I'm working my way through Assassin's Creed 4 having recently finished 3 in which Wallace "plays" Sean Cummings. I now have a sea shanty for every occasion. 


Friends Like These is Wallace's account of what happened when he tried to update the address book of his childhood. His friend(?) Gorman is an excellent comp author, perhaps unsurprisingly given they co-authored Are You Dave Gorman? Those who find Gorman rather too darkly self-obsessed will find more to like in his friend's(?) writing.


Overall, this book is pretty good. Wallace is a skilful writer with a pleasing eye for the absurd and a nice turn of phrase. He has some fabulous material and he makes the most of it. 


Which sounds good. And it *is* good. Kind of.


It feels like a really odd complaint to make - which it is, and I should emphasise that it in no way wrecks the book, more undermines it - but I found it too structured, too polished. 


This style of non-fic writing is dependent upon two things: material and angle. By angle, I mean the shtick, the character the author plays. This is essential because it sets everything else about the piece - consider Top Gear: you have the oaf, the pedant, and the overenthusiastic one (although Richard Hammond performs a variety of roles). From those roles, stories can be constructed: putting Jeremy in a position where he'll make a hash of things; give Hammond an opportunity to buy a pick-up truck; have James become annoyed because things aren't done properly etc.


Wallace's shtick is Everybloke with a side helping of Ruled By The Missus (praise where it's due: she is not portrayed as the Missus Who Rules trope). Which is fine. It's a pretty standard shtick, it suits the material - which is really, really good at times - and Wallace performs it well. 


But, Wallace isn't Everybloke.


Wallace wasn't some guy just looking up people he used to know. If we compare this book with something like America Unchained by his mate(?) Dave Gorman, Gorman covers the real life situation. He is there to make a documentary - he know's there's going to be a book. The real world pressure - the fact he's making a documentary, not just going off on his own - drives the book in places and provides material. In Dave Gorman's Googlewack Adventure, again there is the acknowledgement that this is not just something he happens to be spending his afternoon doing; there is talk of the credit card bill, and the novel he is failing to write.


I'm not asking for total fidelity, because that would be boring. And I have no idea if the things I've mentioned above in Gorman's work are devices as well, I can only say that they read believably in the text. Friends Like These has the fingerprints of a potential film adaptation all over it, both in the writing and especially the structure, and I really, really disliked that aspect of it. It's a shame.


Overall then: well worth reading, especially if you dislike Dave Gorman's navel gazing and self-destruction (and if so, what is *wrong* with you?), but it my eyes weakened by the structural imposition. 3.5 stars.