Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Girlfriend in a Coma

Girlfriend in a Coma - Douglas Coupland

"Because if it's not Love
Then it's the bomb, the bomb, the bomb,
the bomb, the bomb, the bomb, the bomb
That will bring us together
Nature is a language - can't you read ?
Nature is a language - can't you read ?
So, ask me, ask me, ask me,
Ask me, ask me, ask me"
The Smiths - Ask

This is an odd book. Firstly, it's got the oddly distancing use of Smiths' lyrics in sentences to no obvious effect. Coupland has said that this was "a little salute to those points in my life when I was melting down to soundtracks provided by British gloom rockers." It seems little more than a gimmick, although it does act as a metafictional brake on the potential gaucherie of some episodes. (and it's fun, in a trainspottery kind of way).

Not that being a little gauche is necessarily a flaw, and I was moved by some of the early episodes leading up to and just after the "girlfriend" falls into a coma, even if there were large elements of 'movie of the week' in them.
The strengths that I found in Coupland's other books are here, particularly his ability to create a group dynamic and to get the cultural references spot on. He also has a great ability to nail detail and make episodes feel real that might otherwise fall into cliched mawk. However, no amount of detail could make some of the elements of this book feel 'real.'
This book falls somewhere between science fiction, mysticism and melodrama, with a group of school friends forming the core. Friends and careers seem to be at the heart of all the books I've read by Coupland (Generation X, Microserfs and this). The characters drift through their lives and move apart and come back together, until joined finally by one hell of a deus ex machina.
Early on we get a fairly dark picture of modern youth. Two of the 'heroes' go down to a party in a "pale yellow rancher then being smashed by angry, dreadful children, ungrateful monsters, sharks in bloodied water, lashing out at this generic home, their incubator - a variation on their own homes - homes for the prayerless, homes that imbued their teen occupants with rigid sameness and predictability while offering no alternative."
This announces the core of the book. What do American youth at the end of the twentieth century (when this was written) have to believe in? Is it not enough that they are lucky enough to be born into prosperity and security, that they have the foundation for a life of self discovery and self expression?
The answer appears to be 'No'. All the friends who are not in a coma find their lives drifting into unhappiness and addiction.
The book posits the idea that we have lost our relationship with time. Careers and technology have started to use up more of our days and our energy.  We no longer imagine the future as we once did, or feel ourselves part of it. And if you don't feel a part of something how can you grow up. "I was getting - we were getting - no younger, yet for some reason not particularly wiser."
In order to try and interrogate this state Coupland introduces the big questions. What if we knew there were more than we now know? How would it affect our behaviour?
Well, it was one "What if?" too many for me. The dividing line between reality and fantasy evaporated and I felt like L Ron Hubbard was in the house. I'm afraid if this is the only alternative we'll have to wait for the bomb to bring us together.
This sounds harsher than I felt reading the book and it may be a little unfair but hell, it's not personal. I liked Generation X and Microserfs and lots of this book. Just not all of it.

1 comment:

  1. I felt like L Ron Hubbard was in the house

    Ha - exactly. The book had its strengths, but the whole thing was a bit much for me.