These Things Take Time...

These Things Take Time…

“I’m Jared, a ghost.”

Douglas Coupland is a master at dissecting the niggly bits of existence, dragging out the parts we don’t necessarily want to examine, and holding them up to the light anyway for us to peer at. He captures the essence of the time, most famously the late eighties up until the present day, and his fifth novel does the same, examining both the tail end of the 1970s and the 1990s, looking at the changes that occured with jarring speed in that time. However, he does tend to keep his books set firmly in the real world, even if from a slightly warped point of view. In this one, he goes all-out weird, and isn’t this weird again until Generation A, over a decade later.

The novel begins in 1979 when, on the 15th December, Karen falls into a coma that that lasts for seventeen years. Her boyfriend, Richard, and her friends, Hamilton, Pam, Wendy and Linus, are left behind to deal with the consequences. Although they did nothing to cause her coma (she had merely taken two Valium and barely any vodka), they become tainted and people begin to whisper about them behind their backs.

The five of them begin to seek meaning and struggle to come to terms with growing up and surviving adulthood in a world that is becoming faster and more interested in technology. (One character notes later into the book that in the battle between humans and machines, the machines won with barely a struggle.) However, while some cope better than others, Richard perhaps copes the worst, but he has promised Karen that he will wait, and wait he does, for 6,719 days.

When Karen emerges from her coma, it is considered a miracle and she is in better shape than many doctors could have imagined. it feels like a blink of an eye for her, but the world is changed massively and she comes with some horrible and shocking news: the universe put her into a coma because she saw something she wasn’t meant to see, and the end of the world is coming…

The novel is split into three parts. The first is narrated by Richard, who talks about Karen entering her coma and the activities that the group get up to in the following seventeen years. The second is in the third person and jumps between all the characters, and deals with Karen’s reintroduction to society (she quickly becomes fed up of people telling her that the Berlin Wall came down and that AIDS is a thing) and the prophecy that she seems to have had. The third part is from the point of view of Jared, who was another friend of the group back in the 70s, who died unexpectantly and is now their spirit guide through the end of the world that does indeed occur.

Coupland says that he wrote the book during a very dark time in his own life, and that’s fairly clear. The book, particularly the final apocalyptic part, is very dark and scary, but so indeed are the parts where the characters are trying to be normal. Karen notes that when she awakens there seems to be a certain something missing from people, but she can’t work it out properly. It might just be a struggle to search for meaning and fill the loss that everyone is dealing with. Technology and other societal advancements has rendered humanity sterile. It’s another clear sign of how on the ball Coupland is, as we’ve only become more and more obsessed with finding ourselves but losing time to technology over the last decade and a half.

When I first read Coupland’s books, this one was almost immediately selected as my favourite of them all, and I think it probably still is. It’s weird and dark, but the imagery is so beautiful and the entire section that takes place during the end of the world is haunting in its beauty and magic. The characters, while all so very lost and unable to deal with much of what happens around them, seeking answers in alcohol and drugs, are for the most part likeable, and you can’t help but pity them when the real world shows them the horror that it is capable of. Jared is probably the least fleshed out character, but nonetheless is still rather interesting, being, after all, still sixteen at the end of the novel, whereas the others all grew up, physically if not mentally.

It’s a bit denser than I remember, but it’s full of wonderful observations that Coupland is famous for. One particularly noteworthy one is when he says that if you were forty and were told that an eighteen-year-old was going to make all of your career decisions from now on, you’d be furious. “But that’s what life is all about,” says Hamilton; “some eighteen-year-old kid making your big decisions for you that stick for a lifetime.”

Dark and magical, but fascinating in its scope and rather special.