Douglas Coupland, Generation A

I will always read new work by Douglas Coupland. To paraphrase a friend with whom I was once much closer, Coupland's writing the world I actually live in -- you just have to ignore the detail that it's labelled as fiction, and the other detail that none of the events being described have ever happened to you or to anyone you know. OK, they've never happened to me, and actually some of them might well have happened to some people I know, but let the rhetoric stand.

Generation A, Coupland's new novel, is just as flawed and unforgettable as any of his other best fiction: Generation X, Life After God, and Microserfs, to my eyes (though I do have real fondness for Eleanor Rigby and Girlfriend in a Coma...). The characters verge on caricature, the plotting around Serge and the drug is beyond absurd, the ending is tidy and somewhere between implausible and inevitable, and the stories told by the characters are awfully like those told by all his other characters in all his other books, but damn, it works anyway. At its best, this book measures up with Coupland's best previous work. It's not all there, but it never is with him, is it?

The gist: on a near-future Earth where bees have become extinct and society seems on the verge of collapse as a result, five people are stung. What are their stories? And not just their biographies: what stories would they tell, if pressed to tell stories, about the worlds they imagine?

One of the five, a Sri Lankan named Harj who works at a Colombo call centre, describes himself as "a chunk of disgraced meat at the end of a phone line, forced by the global economy to discuss colour samples and waffle-knit jerseys with people who wish they were dead" (p.59). Not all of them have the same ruthlessness of vision, but I think all of them would find a version of home in his thoughts immediately after this self-description: "Is this a world a holy man might deem worthy of saving? What if there was a new Messiah--would he coldly look at atmospheric CO2 levels and call it quits before he began? Would he go find some newer, fresher planet to save instead?" Margaret Atwood (Oryx & Crake, and The Year of the Flood) and Ian McEwan (Solar) are even larger figures currently writing fiction about environmental crisis, with McEwan's due out in March 2010, but Coupland's been here before. A few of his books have touched on this ground before, most notably Girlfriend in a Coma, but this is far beyond anything he's tried. It's not as thorough as Atwood's efforts, but it's handily worth the price of admission.

Read the book. You might hate it, but worse things could happen. Make the case in the comments that you based your purchase largely on this review, and I might even send you some money. If I feel like it, and if you tell the story well enough.

(And on a blogger-professional note, I'm gratified that he took my advice about blurbs when I got unreasonably cranky about the one on the softcover version of The Gum Thief from Chris Ayres' review in the Times of the hardcover. Nary a blurb here, except the bang-on observation that "Generation A mirrors 1991's Generation X. It explores new ways of looking at the acts of reading and storytelling in a digital world." Yes, it does, and yes, it does. Well played, sir.)

(And no, obviously I DON'T think he took my advice. Puh-leeze.)

Comments

Anonymous said…
Hi there Richard!

Although I probably don't entirely share your enthusiasm for the book, I enjoyed most part of Coupland's Generation A. Am I right in presuming that Harj was your favourite character as well?

I recently published a review of the book myself. You can find it here if you’re interested in reading it.
Jelle said…
Hi there Richard!

Although I probably don't entirely share your enthusiasm for the book, I enjoyed most part of Coupland's Generation A. Am I right in presuming that Harj was your favourite character as well?

I recently published a review of the book myself. You can find it here if you’re interested in reading it.

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