The Timewaster Diaries: A Year in the Life of Robin Cooper by Robin Cooper
|The Timewaster Diaries: A Year in the Life of Robin Cooper by Robin Cooper|
|Reviewer: Paul Harrop|
|Summary: Humour is subjective, so it's hard to condemn this book outright. But I found it thin and repetitive, with little originality or any of the clashes with reality which gave The Timewaster Letters their raison d'etre.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 352||Date: June 2007|
The Timewaster Diaries is the third outing for Robin Cooper, the fictional alter-ego of TV producer Robert Popper ( Peep Show; Look Around You). In his previous two books of Timewaster Letters, Cooper published the rambling and slightly surreal prank letters he sent to a range of real companies and organisations. Their often hilarious comedy sprang from the usually polite but gradually more exasperated replies sent by the unwitting victims as the correspondence progressed.
In the Diaries, Cooper is on his own. As the title suggests, this book is a year's worth of diary entries. The 53-year-old Cooper details his daily doings, job seeking, working (for a company whose exact nature he never discovers, and as a single-client driving instructor) and secretly nursing a wood pigeon, Smithie, in his loft. He recounts his dealings with his wife Rita, his aged mother, his friend Tony and a slew of minor characters of varying degrees of eccentricity.
Cooper's main preoccupation, other than those above, is a series of absurd inventions, all illustrated in the childish style familiar to readers of the Letters. Some of these are only mildly barmy - such as his 'crossoku' hybrid of crossword and sudoku, and aqua-choc (a confectionery bar with a water filling which he pitches to a series of manufacturers). Others, such as a robotic post box, are more bizarre. These, and sub-Christmas-cracker 'jokes' which he submits to his local paper, produce a predictable cascade of rejection letters.
Popper's decision to give Robin Cooper a life beyond the letters is risky. Like the funny half of a comedy duo going out without a straight man, there is no foil to his mildly deluded musings. While the letters produced either delight or puzzlement in readers, the Diaries stand to produce more of the latter than the former.
That's not to say Cooper is unlikeable - or even particularly far-fetched. Most people who work for public bodies will recognise aspects of the character among their more eccentric correspondents. Fans of comic writing may spot parallels with Adrian Mole or Henry Root. His closest comedic antecedent is probably Michael Crawford's Frank Spencer character from the TV series Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em.
This might help explain my view that the diaries will polarise its potential readership. After a year in his company, Robin Cooper's man-child personality does grate. I found his tendency to asterisk out even mild swear words, his love of random neologisms ('mobular phone' for example) and over-use of exclamation marks more wearying than endearing.
There are few belly laughs, and little action apart form the odd Frank Spencer-esque comic fracas. Mild irony arises from hints that Robin and Rita's son Michael is gay: his phone calls from Australia include constant references to his 'friend' Simon as well as to Liza Minelli and dancing lessons - you get the picture. Similar oblivious references to the derision meted out to this harmless nutter give rise to mild amusement. Or not, according to your sense of humour.
If you like the sort of 'gentle' comedy which was once the mainstay of British sitcoms, you'll probably enjoy the amiable, bumbling, naive character and his low-key woes. Those who prefer humour with a little more bite should probably steer clear.
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You can read more book reviews or buy The Timewaster Diaries: A Year in the Life of Robin Cooper by Robin Cooper at Amazon.com.
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