Dave Gorman's Googlewhack! Adventure: the latest wheeze from the whimsical comedian, entertains Ian Sansom
Dave Gorman's Googlewhack! Adventure is an example of that great and noble genre, comedy travel writing, which has been with us probably as long as The Canterbury Tales and certainly as long as The Swiss Family Perelman, but unlike other recent, bestselling and heartless examples of the genre, Gorman's comedy is the result of a rather old-fashioned and grand style of thinking. In many ways he's not funny at all. He certainly doesn't tell jokes. He takes the whole caper extremely seriously. Which means he has no real peers: he's not a slacker Peter McCarthy. He's probably more like Bruce Chatwin, with a sense of humour, or like Don Quixote, a kind of holy fool of stand-up, a sports-casual, slightly-bonkers metaphysician. Frankly, as an idea, the book sounds rubbish - the result of a few tequilas too many - but it actually tackles many of the important questions that we expect great literature to ask, such as where am I from, and where am I going? And, honestly, who cares?
Chasing his sublime little auguries around the globe Gorman gets to meet some rather interesting people. Most of them are American, as it turns out, but then this is probably unavoidable: they just have more computers and more websites. And maybe in America they're looking for the miraculous; maybe they really do want kindness; maybe they really do want beauty; and they want people to be good; they want the world to be a village. And along comes eccentric little Dave to make it so. It's enough to bring a lump to the throat and a tear to the eye. It's like the war in reverse.
Had all gone to plan, this would be a review of Dave Gorman's debut novel.
But, like just about everyone who works from home, the comic was just too easily distracted to actually get down to the work for which he'd been handsomely paid.
Unlike the rest of us, though, Gorman's displacement activities went a bit further than cleaning the oven or cataloguing his CD collection. Instead, he embarked on an adventure that took him several times around the globe, running up a five-figure bill in the process - and most definitely not getting that first novel written.
As anyone who saw any of his sell-out stage shows knows, Gorman's imagination was sparked by the online diversion of googlewhacking - a usually harmless game in which you try to find combinations of two legitimate words that throw up just one unique webpage from the three billion or so online.
And so he is challenged to meet an unbroken chain of ten people responsible such 'whacks. This book chronicles the result.
While offbeat 'reality travel' tomes like this have become a staple of publishing - including, of course, Gorman's previousquest to find 54 namesakes - here, he perpetually protests his reluctance to participate in such a trivial pursuit.
It is this which gives the book something of an edge over the rest of the Round Slovenia With A Differential Gearing System or Playing The Innuits At Twister genre. Gorman genuinely starts doubting his own sanity as he abdicates all responsibility for his life to the rules of a pointless game no one else knows.
But although this intriguing aspect emerges time and again, the tone of the book usually tends more towards the 'I'm bonkers, me' than the philosophical navel-gazing. After all, the point of these books is to allow us to live our lives vicariously through the exploits of the writer - and we don't want our performing monkeys too introspective.
What we do get, then, is an entertaining collection of anecdotes of his encounters with Googlewhacks around the world. And what a diverse lot they turn out to be - from Welsh Mini fanatics to creationist standard-bearers - but they all share a single personality trait: passion.
Gorman has it, too (after all, before his quest started, he himself was the Googlewhack 'francophile namesakes') and it's his enthusiasm to meet strangers, as much as his own reckless stupidity, that makes the book such an easy, entertaining read.
He hasn't lost his comedian's knack of bait and switch, stringing an audience along before unexpectedly changing direction, and he tells of his encounters with simplicity, wit and style.
The book naturally fills in some of the detail left out of the entertaining stage show - although his trip to China remains tantalisingly unexplored - so even if you are already aware of the broad strokes of the adventure, there's more to enjoy in print.
One criticism is that the quest's ridiculously lucky conclusion seems a little too neatly contrived - although Gorman insists every word is true. As he says, if he could make things up, he would have written that novel. And in a tale filled with billions-to-one coincidences, perhaps one more shouldn't come as any great surprise.