Obsessing over the hate mail

By David Hill

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There's this columnist, see? He writes witty, warm, wise pieces for a big newspaper. Everyone likes him and his articles, right? Wrong.

A fair few people dislike him and his articles. Several dislike him/them enough to form the GW Haters' Club, as poor Giles discovers from a search engine one day.

So he'll treat it as a joke, ignore them or maybe make light of them in one of his pieces, right again? Wrong again. He becomes angry, then obsessed, then - as he homes in on "salome66" - he becomes potentially homicidal.

Promising premise. But a promise that doesn't really deliver. This is a sound-bite novel, crammed with amusing, accurate one-page or two-page or half-page episodes; hardly ever testing the reader with something significant or serious.

The cat sits on Giles' gouty big toe. He stumbles through the dog-droppings of Roundworm Park, receives a misspelt, misdirected letter from the school nurse, gets mugged for his cellphone by a boy bicycle thief.

The Hate Club accuses him of cryptohomophobia. Maria the shopping-trolley lady sells him tranquillisers. He abuses the guests at Helen and Thingy's (he can't remember the guy's name) dinner party. So far, so entertaining.

An interesting bleakness looks like building. Giles is drinking too much. His job and wife are insecure. He doesn't want his friends (what friends?) invited to his 40th birthday party.

But Tim Dowling can't resist following every witticism and distraction wherever it goes. The parts stay funnier than the whole. There is close observation, verbal slapstick, self-denigrating despair.

There are chuckle-worthy episodes where Giles infiltrates an extremist motorists' organisation and is invited to Switzerland to sit on a 40ft-high toilet.

It could have stopped 100 pages earlier or gone on for 100 pages longer; the overall effect would be the same. And you will be unsurprised to learn that Dowling is, apparently, a gun writer of witty, warm, wise newspaper pieces.

* David Hill is a Taranaki writer.

The Giles Wareing Haters' Club
By Tim Dowling
(Picador $27.99)

- NZ Herald

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