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What you would expect
on 20 July 2011
If you have listened to the Ricky Gervais podcasts or the XFM shows, or seen the animated TV series, or read Karlogy or any of his previous books, then you know exactly what you are going to get here. Karl hasn't changed, and it is doubtful he ever will. If you haven't experienced Karl before, then I suggest listening to one of the podcasts before reading this book. Karl's monotone, put-upon, Mancunian accent is a quintessential part of his character, and I can't imagine going through this book without mentally assigning that voice to his words. It will also be useful in understanding the dynamic between Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant and Karl. Essentially, Gervais and Merchant are performing experiments on poor ol' Karl to learn how his brain works, although sometimes they just mess with him for fun.
'An Idiot Abroad' is the most ambitious of these experiments they have put together. Karl gets to travel and see the seven wonders of the modern world, and the results are documented in a TV series and this book, which is Karl's travel journal combined with numerous photos of the places he has been. He spends time with generous people in some of the poorest regions of the world, and gets to see the Wonders in ways inaccessible to a lot of people (he gets to go inside the burial chamber of one pyramid, and has a helicopter ride around the Christ the Redeemer statue). Karl hasn't written a huge amount about his experiences, but what there is is beautiful in a way only he could achieve.
The appeal of Karl is not merely that he says stupid things, or that his concerns are petty - anyone could do that - it is that there is some semblance of logic in his thinking, and, personally at least, it mirrors a part of myself. The part of me that is more concerned with immediate comforts than new experiences, and is underwhelmed by things that I have been told I should find spectacular. Karl takes these feelings and runs with them to their absurd conclusions, so that a book about the wonders of the world spends much of the time detailing toilet concerns.
That is not to say that Karl doesn't have quirks that are entirely his own. The little 'facts' and anecdotes he gathers from sources unknown are sometimes ludicrous (although the ones that end each chapter in the book appear accurate), and his desire to 'get rid of' pretty much everything are just more fascinating glimpses into his mind. Sometimes he will do or say something that has the appearance, briefly, of genius - the toilet chair springs to mind.
As much as I love this book (and I should add the Kindle version that I downloaded is amongst the best formatted ebooks I have found), it is the podcasts that I will forever hold dear. There is something about his voice that adds so much more to his character, and the written word will never really capture that.