“Let’s Kill Uncle” by Rohan O’Grady (1964)

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uncle“Liar! Liar! Liar!”

There seems to be a fashion at the moment for publishing houses to be rooting around in forgotten books of the last century, dusting them off and republishing them. I don’t have any complaints with this. The British Library is focusing on crime novels, but Bloomsbury seem to have cast the net a little wider. I knew nothing of Rohan O’Grady (real name: June O’Grady Skinner) but I was intrigued by the title and blurb, so dived into this novel from the sixties.

Barnaby Gaunt has been sent to a remote island of Canada for his summer holidays, but his Uncle hasn’t arrived yet, so he’ll have to stay with Mr and Mrs Brooks in the meantime. Also spending her summer holidays on the island is young Christie McNab and, being the only two children on the island, they are forced to become friends and play together. While things start off a little rocky, the eventual harmony is shattered when Barnaby learns that his Uncle will soon be there. Everyone thinks he should be happy about this, but no one knows the truth – Barnaby is the heir to a ten million dollar fortune, and his Uncle is trying to kill him.

The island’s Mountie, Sergeant Coulter, tries to be fair to the children and forgive their misdeeds, but he doesn’t believe Barnaby for a minute when the young boy confides in him his fears. Barnaby and Christie, therefore, decide to take matters into their own hands. They must kill Uncle before it’s too late.

Despite the premise’s promise of being about two children plotting to kill a relative, this only forms half the tale. The rest is taken up by the thoughts and feelings of the Mountie, Sergeant Coulter. He is a native of the island and the only one from there who went to war and didn’t do the decent, brave thing of dying in battle. He is kind and fair, and has a complex relationship with the children, of whom he is very fond, but also can’t wait to see them leave. Despite the kindness he shows to humans, he is far less patient with the island’s lone cougar, One-Ear, and ruthlessly plots to kill the beast.

As I often find with children in novels, Barnaby and Christie are fairly irritating, but you can see that they mean well. Barnaby has many issues to deal with regarding his Uncle, and these become clearer as the book goes on. At first they seem irredeemable, but like Coulter I came to have a certain grudging like of them by the end. The oddest character of all, though, is Uncle himself. He doesn’t make an appearance until quite late in the narrative, and while we know he’s out to kill Barnaby – and there’s no question that it isn’t the imaginary ramblings of a small child – he is almost cartoonishly villainous, a sociopath of the highest order. He seems to have stepped into this book from one that was somewhat lighter. Because don’t be fooled by the childishness suggestion given by the title – this is rather a dark novel.

A review on the cover says that the book is ahead of its time, and I can see that in a couple of ways. It reads a little like something Lemony Snicket would produce, with the same set-up of children in a small community of adults, none of whom believe the danger they are in. Uncle reminded me throughout of Count Olaf. It also makes an oblique reference to sexual abuse towards children, as Uncle is noted a few times to have a fondness for little girls, and there’s a mention that he’s made many of them disappear in the past. When he muses on the fact that Christie is too wise to be fooled into following him in exchange for candy, it sends a cold shiver down one’s spine. The mix of the naivety of the children and the horrors like this jar occasionally, but it’s rather a good book nonetheless.

What strikes me most about the book is the sense of loneliness and stagnation hanging over everything. With no young men or children left on the island, the place is slowly dying, and everyone is hurting and has lost someone. It’s always quite a moment when you find a line in fiction that reveals such a truth about you that you have to stop reading for a moment and contemplate things. I leave you with a quotation from the book that particularly struck me.

He couldn’t stand it and walked down to the beach, feeling as though the main stream of humanity had passed him by and that he would stand on beaches, forsaken and forgotten, for the rest of eternity.

“The Antagonist” by Lynn Coady (2011)

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antag
Every hero is someone else’s villain.

“There you are in the picture looking chubby and pompous, and it makes me remember how you told me that time you were afraid of fat people.”

Life isn’t black and white. There are innumerable shades of grey in between and when you tell a story, you’re guaranteed to tell it in a different way to anyone else. Something that is traumatic to you, might seem unimportant to someone else. Now imagine if that someone else had taken your trauma and sold it. How would that make you feel?

This is exactly what has happened to our antagonistic protagonist, Gordon “Rank” Rankin. At thirty-nine, after years moving around Canada with more than a few dark secrets in his past, he discovers that is old friend Adam has written a book. Inside this book is Rank’s story, and he’s furious. All his secrets, confessed one drunken night to this friend, have been laid bare on the page.

Raging, Rank finds Adam on the Internet and begins to send him emails that aren’t exactly non-threatening, but don’t suggest that he’s about to turn up and bash his door down at any minute. Rank just wants a chance to tell his side of the story – give Adam a refresher course of what happened at university and before, from his point of view.

What Rank ends up discovering, however, is so much more.

OK, so some books are immediate duds, and some books are immediately revered and held aloft, but then there are some – and they’re rarer – that sit simply on that three-star-review position and don’t seem to resonate particularly in either way. The Antagonist is one of those. It’s well written, and Coady has a flair for colourful, interesting language. She sets up fully rounded characters, painting them for us, and knows how and when to release certain information for the best reactions.

But frankly, there are a lot of words here for not much action. Rank’s three great tragedies in his life are revealed out of order, and one of them he isn’t even directly responsible for, which seems to be the one, ironically, that he can’t forgive himself for most. You can see where it’s going, and it’s rather interesting, but it just takes a bit too long to get there.

The conceit of having Rank speaking directly to Adam in the book is good, but he is a distracted narrator, drunk some of the time at least, and he weaves about the narrative, jumping backwards and forwards in time, changing from first to third person and back again with barely a warning. I guess more than anything it’s a story about Rank’s father, Gord, whether it’s intended to be or not. Unfortunately Gord isn’t a particularly captivating presence, more a cartoonishly angry man who has a bad relationship with his son.

We’re exploring too many themes here – narcissism, fate, forgiveness and religion – and as such none of them get enough page time to stand out. Again, it’s not a bad book by any stretch of the imagination, the writing is polished and it’s an easy read, but it’s just not very memorable. Find me in a year and ask me what I thought of this book. I’m unlikely to be able to tell you much.

It’s a filler novel; but at heart a tale of fear, struggle and our obsessions with ourselves, always wondering how we come across to others, but never really knowing.

“Generation A” by Douglas Coupland (2009)

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gen a“How can we be alive and not wonder about the stories we use to knit together this place we call the world?”

The bees are dying. No one really seems to be able to explain conclusively why this is, but the fact remains that global bee populations are dwindling. It might not sound terribly important, but bees are one of the primary pollinators of the world. Not only would a loss of bees mean a loss of honey, but we’d also lose dozens of crops, among these being watermelon, tomato, tangerine, sunflower, strawberry, raspberry, quince, pear, onion, mustard, lime, kiwi, hazelnut, fig, fennel, cucumber, cranberry, cotton, cauliflower, carrot, broccoli, blueberry, apricot and apple. I’m not going all environmental on you here, but I’m just setting up the world we’re about to enter in Generation A.

It’s the year 2024 and bees have died out the world over. Juice is synthetic, cotton clothing is a thing of the past, and everyone feels a bit guilty about the fact they let it happen. As such, most of the world has become addicted to a new drug called Solon, which gives the user a feeling of solitude that is at one calming and addictive. Once you start taking Solon, you stop caring about anything else.

Then, quite out of the blue, Zack, a corn farmer in Iowa is stung by a bee. Before he even has much time to register what has happened, he is pounced on by the authorities, zipped up into a bodybag and transported to an anonymous room somewhere deep underground where scientists proceed to conduct tests on him. Not long after this, four more people are stung. Sam in New Zealand, Julien in France, Diana in Canada, and Harj in Sri Lanka. The same fate befalls these stingees too, and once they’re kicked out of their holding cells, they find that they have become the most famous people on the planet and can barely move without being surrounded by people demanding autographs and DNA.

The five realise that they have to be together, and the opportunity comes with a scientist called Serge has them all transported to a quiet island off Canada, a place where Solon is banned and the natives only tolerate their presence because they might bring the bees back. There, not far from the site of the last hive (now a UNESCO World Heritage site), Serge has them tell one another stories, telling them that it is all part of a scientific experiment, one that may change the future for humans and bees alike.

A spiritual sequel to Generation X, this book too deals with lonely people who have tried to escape the world. It’s also all about stories and the power of storytelling, although this time suggests that the stories the characters tell actually have a physical power. It’s fun to read the narratives the characters come up with, as they start inserting in-jokes into them and making them connect with those of the others.

Zack is a reprehensible character, but actually very likeable. Sam and Harj tie for the nicest characters in the book; although she is reeling from the fact her parents have just informed her that they don’t believe in anything anymore (which may or may not be connected to the fact they’ve started taking Solon), and Harj has faced much hardship since his family were swept away by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and now idealises America and the life one can make for oneself there. Julien is the least likeable, being pretty stuck up and apparently determined to blame anyone but himself for his failings. Diana is the least interesting of the five. She has Tourettes, but it feels like it’s a trait that’s been tacked on to make her more memorable.

The drug Solon reminds me hugely of soma, the hallucinogenic drug from Brave New World. They’re both used freely by the masses who seem unable (or simply unwilling) to take notice of the fact that they’re probably doing their bodies and minds much more harm than good. The idea of a drug that placates the population is a horrifying one and almost pushes this book into dystopia territory. However, I think it maintains a little more hope than some dystopias. The world has not quite fallen apart, but things are not as they once were. It’s not really about the bees; it’s about how humanity is slowly eating away at itself and one day it will be too late to undo all the damage we’re currently inflicting on the world and ourselves. Coupland once again stands firm and shows how much he understands the world, displaying his usual frightening clarity. While not my favourite of his books, it’s a strong contender.

I’m almost done with Coupland now. I’ve re-read all his books, as I said I would way back when, and now I’ve just got one more to go, his newest novel Worst. Person. Ever. which I’ve never read. Expect that one along soon. Meanwhile, I’d like to say that if you ever think you should re-read an author you loved, do it. You’ll only fall even more in love with them and their work.

“Player One” by Douglas Coupland (2010)

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Press any key to start.

Press any key to start.

“Karen likes crossword puzzles because they make time pass quickly.”

I am nearly at the end of my Coupland re-reads – there’s just one more to go now – so it seems like a good time to recap. There is something oddly familiar about this novel, and not just because I last read it in 2011, making it the most recent re-read on this blog so far. It also forms the second book so far in 2015 alone that takes place in a Canadian airport during an end of the world scenario. Most notably of all, however, it references every single one of Coupland’s previous novels. I’ll give you a rundown of the plot and then explain more.

Player One is perhaps a modern day horror story. In a shabby cocktail bar at the airport in Toronto, four strangers find themselves interacting with one another. There’s Karen, a single mother who has come there to meet a man she’s been talking to online; Rick, the bartender who regrets screwing up his life and wondering where it all went wrong; Luke, a pastor who has just lost his faith in God and stolen twenty thousand dollars from his church and is now on the run; and Rachel, a highly autistic young woman who breeds white mice and is only there to meet a man so she can have a baby and prove to her father that she is a worthwhile human being.

The four find themselves talking and contemplating the messes their lives are in, when suddenly the scrolling news channel makes a shocking announcement: oil is up to $250 a barrel. As they watch, the number creeps ever higher, and then the TV goes out. When they establish an Internet connection, they find the price is rising higher still and the world is going mad. The airport shuts down and gas stations across the world are raided and now empty. The world collapses within minutes. And as if that wasn’t enough, there are chemical explosions happening on the horizon and there’s a sniper on the roof of the cocktail lounge.

The story is told in real time over five hours – the first hour shows the four main characters getting into the lounge, and then the next four are the first four hours of the apocalypse. Each chapter is split into five, retelling events from the points of view of Karen, Rick, Luke and Rachel, and then from the point of view of Player One, an extra omniscient character who fills in the rest, as if narrating a film or video game. While the speed at which everything happens seems insane, something keeps you hooked and you get just as caught up in the unfolding drama as the characters do.

What makes this book so familiar, however, is that Coupland doesn’t just reference previous novels, returning to themes like loneliness (Eleanor Rigby), faith (Life After God) and autism (jPod), but takes whole chunks of text from them and pastes them down here again, giving his new characters the same thoughts as his previous narrators. If you’ve never read a Coupland book before, you wouldn’t know, and last time I read this, I didn’t pick up on them all, but this time they shone through. It works, though, as if showing how we’re not all that different after all, if the characters of Player One are thinking the same things as those in Girlfriend In A Coma, Hey Nostradamus! and Generation X. It’s a smart, smooth call back and it works within the novel.

The resolution is cleared up a little bit too neatly for my liking, but it’s not bad. The novel originally existed as a series of lectures that Coupland delivered for the 2010 Massey Lectures, each one taking an hour each to complete, meaning that the book itself can easily be read in five hours, making it truly real-time. Coupland is smart, as usual, too. While most of it reads the way his books tend to, the parts told from Rachel’s persepective are oddly mechanical, which further highlights the fact that she cannot understand or process humour or metaphor.

In another traditional moment of Couplandism, at the back is a glossary of “future terms”; words and phrases that describe experiences that are unique to this period of history. I’ve shared some of my favourites below.

Denarration: The process whereby one’s life stops feeling like a story.

Fictive Rest: The common inability of many people to be able to sleep until they have read even the tiniest amount of fiction.

Omniscience Fatigue: The burnout that comes with being able to know the answer to almost anything online.

Rosenwald’s Theorem: The belief that all the wrong people have self-esteem.

Web Sentience Release: The belief that this newly evolved web sentience will relieve people of the crushing need to be individual.

If you’ve not read Coupland before, I wouldn’t start with this one, as while it’s good and does indeed use some of the best lines from his other works, this isn’t his finest novel. However, the concepts are high, the characters interesting and the plot certainly packs a punch, with unexpected twists at every other turn.  If nothing else, it may screw your head up a little bit with all its talk of whether time really exists, and where it goes once it’s used up…

If this doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, why not try my debut novel The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, the tale of a cannibal, a god and a journalist on a mission to get what they really want, no matter who has to be eaten to get it.

“Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel (2014)

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station“The king stood in a pool of blue light, unmoored.”

Those who know my reading habits well will be aware that I am rarely one to follow the crowd. When a book is held up with everyone saying, “You have to read this NOW!” I will usually turn the other cheek. I’ll read what I want to read when I want to read it. Oh sure, I’m not saying I always ignore the trends – Rowling, Fforde and Coupland all appear in my library within days of their releases – but I’ve long been wary of popular novels. We all remember The Da Vinci Code, after all.

However, I went against my self-programming the other week and picked up Station Eleven, which has appeared on every “must read” list I’ve encountered for the last couple of months and is stacked in Waterstone’s in pyramids to rival those in Giza. I read the blurb and decided it sounded pretty interesting, and so here we are: a review that’s actually fairly current.

Our story begins on a cold and snowy night in Toronto where Arther Leander, a famous actor who is performing the lead in King Lear in the role of a lifetime, drops dead on stage. Among the witnesses are child actor Kirsten Raymonde, and trainee paramedic Jeevan Chaudhary, the latter of whom attempts to save Leander’s life, but fails. On that same night, a deadly virus that has been spreading in eastern Europe arrives in North America and the effects are swift and brutal: within two hours of catching it you are taken sick; within forty-eight, you are dead.

Society collapses, travel becomes heavily restricted and the world will never be the same again, with an estimated 99% of the population now dead. The story picks up twenty years later where Kirsten, now older, wiser and sadder, journeys around North America with the Travelling Symphony, a group of actors and musicians who pass through settlements and perform music and Shakespeare plays for the survivors. When they encounter a prophet who claims that the plague was divine intervention, their lives begin to get even more difficult as they struggle on and away from him and his men, on to find some saner survivors.

Interspered with this story are flashbacks to the past, telling the stories of Jeevan and Kirsten, but also Leander, his ex-wife Miranda, his best friend Clark and the prophet, as they live their lives both before and after the end of the world. The plots tie together and points become clearer has time goes on, and civilization shows no sign of recovery.

So is the book worth the hype? I’m not sure. I enjoyed it – I like a good dystopia, and in this one the world is displayed in a rather honest and believable style – but I wouldn’t rank it as one of the greats of contemporary literature. The idea that, twenty years after the world has ended, there’s a group still determined to perform Shakespeare and bring moments of entertainment to the daily struggle of the survivors is wonderful, and so very human. While most are cynical and there are many issues and those who try to use the circumstances to better themselves, humans once again show that, deep down, they aren’t all that bad.

The interweaving stories work well together, although some are certainly more interesting than others, although I suppose that’s down to personal preference. I prefer the stuff set after the collapse, although there are a lot of things set up in the flashbacks to normality that then develop fruit in the post-apocalyptic world. We get to see the world fall a few times, from different viewpoints in different locations. Miranda is on a beach in Malaysia when she gets the news. Jeevan is hiding in his brother’s apartment, watching the lights of the city and the television channels wink out one by one. Clark is stuck in an airport with fifty other would-be passengers who decided to stick around when their flights had been cancelled or diverted, never to take off again.

The title, Station Eleven, refers to a comic book that Miranda has been working on about a scientist stuck on a spaceship disguised as a planet, that crops up again and again, to be mentioned by Miranda (who wrote it), Leander (who saw its construction) and Kirsten (who ends up with a copy) and is used to compare the state of that world with the state of the one the characters are stuck in. There’s also an attempt at a comparasion to Shakespeare himself, saying that he too lived in a plague-ridden world with no electricity, but it feels a little heavy-handed and perhaps unnecessary.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good book, smart and with certain glimmers of hope through the text that even after the end of everything, humanity will find a way to survive and, in their own way, flourish, but I still will never be able to explain its explosive popularity. If you like dystopia, then add this one to your reading list, but I wouldn’t hurry you.

If you want to help me on my way to achieving explosive popularity, then please download my debut novel The Atomic Blood-stained Bus from Amazon, iTunes, SmashWords and other associated locations. Thanks!

“jPod” by Douglas Coupland (2006)

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Microserfs 2.0

Microserfs 2.0

“Oh God. I feel like a refugee from a Douglas Coupland novel.”

This is the book that is responsible for me reviewing all the Coupland books this year. I first read this perhaps six or seven years ago and was instantly taken with Coupland’s style, which is weird because this one seems to suggest some knowledge of his previous books is needed. For a start, Coupland himself, as you can tell from the quote above, is a character within. But I’m getting ahead of myself – let’s get on with the story.

jPod is usually billed as Microserfs 2.0, an updated version of his earlier novel. Both feature groups of young adults working in the computer industry, first in the 1990s and this time in the 2000s, highlighting just how quickly things have changed in just a decade. The story follows Ethan, Bree, Cowboy, John Doe, Evil Mark and Kaitlin, six employees of a video game making company who have been shoved into the same office simply due to an error in the computer system that has shoved together all the employees with surnames beginning with J. The first five explain to Kaitlin, the newest recruit, that there is no escape from jPod, although she’s not against trying.

The story is told from the point of view of Ethan, a fairly average programmer with very complex and strange parents (his mother grows marijuana and has just killed a man, and his father is obsessed with ballroom dancing) and a strong urge to avoid any actual work. He and his colleagues fill their days writing love letters to Ronald McDonald, auctioning themselves on eBay and torturing one another in a myriad of interesting ways.

Things take a turn for the strange, however, when their boss Steve (notable for turning Toblerone around in just two years) disappears and leaves them to their own devices with a game he’s been trying to ruin, under the impression that kids love turtles in their skateboarding games. Is his disappearance fairly run of the mill, or is Chinese gangster Kam Fong somehow involved?

Comparasions to Microserfs are impossible to avoid, given that there are so many similarities between the two. Both have similar protagonists, (both of whom begin dating a new colleague), contain nonsensical non-sequiters (sixty or so pages are filled with digits of pi and random numbers, another twenty are dedicated to a list of prime numbers), and both novels touch on autism and a character’s belief that most people in the tech industry are somewhat autistic. However, there are differences, certainly. This is for the “Google generation”; for the slice of people in this world to whom technology is not new and exciting, but now completely normal and simply part of our lives. I wouldn’t be surprised if we get a third novel along a similar line in a few years that details the rise of the iPhone and technology in the early 2010s.

It’s fast, slick and while the characters aren’t exactly three-dimensional, they’re nonetheless pretty strong and seem like a good, if slightly nutty, bunch. My favourite is probably John Doe, who was born on a hippie commune and raised by his staunchly feminist lesbian mother and so now lives his life to be as average as is possible.

The introduction of Coupland as a character is probably the most interesting thing about the book. Coupland himself claims it’s a reference to how intertwined the world has become thanks to the Internet. His character isn’t particularly pleasant, but it’s curious to see his own characters discuss him and the tropes within his novels. By this point, his style is strongly recognisable. Some claim that his self-insertion is vanity of the highest order, but I disagree. I think it’s rather funny and he doesn’t appear to be painting himself in any favourable lights.

It’s full of the things we expect from Coupland – people searching for meaning in a corporate, commercialised world – but there’s something else here that’s completely intangible but makes the book stand out as one of his strongest. Were I to have my time again, I wouldn’t read this one first, but I am pleased that I decided to go back and check out the rest of his oeuvre. His finger is on the pulse of the moment and it’s incredible to see that he hasn’t lost any of his talent for dealing with the here and now that started in Generation X.

“Eleanor Rigby” by Douglas Coupland (2004)

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All the lonely people, where do they all come from?

All the lonely people, where do they all come from?

“I had always thought that a person born blind and given sight later on in life through the miracles of modern medicine would feel reborn.”

In my retrawl through Douglas Coupland’s work, I had from the beginning been dreading Eleanor Rigby. That of course makes it sound that I don’t like it, but that’s not true. I really like it. It’s beautiful and very artfully crafted. It’s just about a topic that I find uncomfortable – and there isn’t much that makes me uncomfortable.

Loneliness is something that I’ve discussed here before, and dealt with a few times in my life. I don’t want to get too maudlin about the whole thing, but it’s unpleasant and not something I recommend. There is a distinct difference between being alone and being lonely and before I get too into this, I’d better actually discuss the book.

Eleanor Rigby is the story of Liz Dunn, self-professed loneliest woman in the world. Coming from a traditionally Couplandian dysfunctional family, she has become stuck in a small apartment in an anonymous neighbourhood in Vancouver, now in her thirties, entirely unmarried and living a life that is bland and unexciting. The most dramatic thing that ever happened to her was the discovery of a dead body on the side of the train tracks when she was a child. Her family love her, but her life is never deemed as interesting as those of her brother William and sister Leslie.

Then, one day in 1997 when the Hale-Bopp comet is in the skies and Liz is coming down off painkillers from having her wisdom teeth removed, she gets a phone call from the hospital. They’ve got someone in asking to see her. His name is Jeremy, he’s twenty years old, and he’s her son.

Typically of Coupland, it’s a book full of wonderful lines and moments (“What about life after death?”; “What about death after life after death?”), although I had forgotten much of it in between the first and second read. Some parts stick out, such as Liz’s descriptions of her crippling loneliness and a scene in which Jeremy and Liz crawl along the highway in rush hour. There’s some stuff about psychology (unavoidable as some of the story takes place in Vienna, home of Freud) and modern medicine, and the nature of time passing.

There’s a beauty about it, and a certain haunting quality, made stronger by the fact that I happen to personally be in a fairly dark and lonely place myself right now. I’m not someone who craves a relationship – I’m happy being single – but there’s an unavoidable fact that sometimes you find yourself without any company. Everyone has their own lives, I’m not faulting that, but it can get you down. As I said, I knew that this book would be difficult and maybe right now it wasn’t the smartest book to read in this mood, but maybe it just helped me get better into the tale.

Liz Dunn is one of my favourite Coupland characters, and you can’t help but feel sorry for her and her empty life. She’s not depressed, but she is sad, and that’s perhaps worse. Jeremy is like a breath of fresh air to both the pages and her life, and he brings a touch of magic to the whole thing. The book is very Coupland – normal people in abnormal situations – but it’s engaging, sweet and very touching. I don’t think it’s one that gets remembered in his oeuvre (thematically fitting, I suppose) but if you’ve ever felt lonely, or are lucky enough to not know how it feels, then give it a go. You are not alone.

For a clear example of how long term loneliness can drive a person insane, you’ll find it as one of the themes in my debut novel, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, available now on Amazon and iBooks.

“Girlfriend In A Coma” by Douglas Coupland (1998)

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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.

“I Play The Drums In A Band Called Okay” by Toby Litt (2008)

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drums“Wouldn’t the coolest thing now to be to be Japanese, eh?”

Something that seems to flummox many people about me is that I don’t have much interest in music. This might seem odd as anyone who knows me knows that I can’t walk down the street without first plugging headphones in. I like music as much as the next man, and I have my own tastes in it, but I’m not a die hard fan of anyone particularly. I’ve been to perhaps three gigs in my lifetime. I like music, but I don’t own any CDs, I can’t remember the last time I bought an album and I haven’t known what’s number one in the charts for about a decade.

As such, I perhaps didn’t get Toby Litt’s ninth book as much as some others might. I’ve read Litt twice before, with Beatniks and Finding Myself and I think this one ranks currently somewhere in between the two.

It’s a novel, certainly, but actually it’s probably better defined as a series of short stories. They’re all told from the point of view of Clap, the drummer in the band okay (all lower case, in italics) and tell the ups and downs of life in a rock band over twenty years. Along with his bandmates Syph, Crab and Mono, our hero drummer experiences the best and worst that fame, fortune and fans have to offer. The stories are given slightly out of order, and feature such episodes as Syph’s near-fatal overdose, Clap’s introduction and conversion to Buddhism, Mono meeting his wife Major and their joint fondness for fishing, and the suicide of a young fan who killed himself listening to okay‘s first album.

First and foremost, the book is witty and wise. There are lashings of Douglas Coupland in here, with plenty of one liners, some funny and some profound. It’s sad too, shining the torch onto the gritty world of rock and roll and showing that it isn’t all sex and drugs, and the bits that are don’t necessarily seem as cool as you’d imagine when you get a closer look at them. It is a story about people who refuse to grow up, and what happens to them when the universe makes them grow up anwyay.

It wasn’t the easiest read, and I think part of that is simply because I have so little interest in the subject matter, which is unlike me as I’m willing to read pretty much anything. Why did I bother reading it then? Well, valid question. Truth be told, the first book by Litt I read, Finding Myself, was so good and so smart that I guess I now continue to seek out his other work to find something as good as that. Neither book so far has been, but then again they’ve both been heavily about music. However, after a while, details of another tour, another overdose, another girl become boring and run of the mill. Clap is a good narrator and while not exactly someone I’d immediately want to befriend (Mono seems the best of the four bandmates, incidentally), he tells his story with love, tinged with regret, which I guess is how all the best love stories are told.

It’s worth a skim, and Clap’s list of advice to the fans is pretty beautiful (“Don’t mourn your own life”), but if you don’t really care about the music industry, then you might not get that much out of it.