Danny Wallace – Who is Tom Ditto? (4 stars)

The writer and broadcaster’s confident second novel fits with his previous form in social experimentation

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Danny Wallace – Who is Tom Ditto?

Writer, broadcaster and comedy accomplice Danny Wallace has undertaken various social experiments in the past: he’s started his own cult, attempted to found a country from his flat and tried saying ‘yes’ to everything for a year. His second work of fiction shares this spirit of experimental social interaction: when radio newsreader Tom investigates the mysterious disappearance of his girlfriend Hayley, he discovers a subculture of people who spend their time following strangers in the hope of witnessing a life more interesting than their own.

Wallace is adept at keeping multiple balls in the air: in addition to the twin plots of the followers and Hayley’s disappearance, he also tackles petty office politics, depression, twitspeak, interns, London, celebrity and platonic relationships. All of this takes place within a deftly-crafted but seemingly effortless structure, in which call-backs, running gags and subtle foreshadowing are smuggled past your eyes before you realise you’re smiling. Wallace’s sharp writing also shines through a broad supporting cast: Tom’s hashtag-spouting workmate Pippy and a taciturn security guard named Adewale are two figures whose fully-developed characters are subtly hinted at with a few brushstrokes.

The first two thirds of the novel glide by with such effortless grace that the final act seems somewhat clunky by comparison: Wallace tips his hand a little too early, then struggles to regain momentum with a series of twists and counter-developments that don’t flow so easily. That said, the goodwill engendered by a strong, confident opening and a likeable but troubled protagonist will see most readers through to an ultimately satisfactory conclusion.

Out now via Ebury Press.

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