The central theme of Douglas Coupland's novel is loneliness. It's main protagonist and narrator is Liz Dunn, a woman left on the shelf. The novel recounts life from childhood in the 1970s to the present, via a possible but slightly fantastical (as with many of the events in his work) plot twist that produces a son to change her life and (temporarily) relive her loneliness.
Liz, for much of the novel, is lonely and at pains to emphasise her plainness, but to the reader she remains warm and pitiless and witty. We feel much sympathy for her (perhaps this is also because of our own fears of being alone), but you feel she would balk at our pity and rarely feels sorry for herself. The narration is typical of a Coupland character, with believable use of language and reference for the narrator, and inspiring imagery.
As in Coupland's other work, the central character is supported by some wonderfully drawn supporting characters, most especially Liz' angrily determined and bothersome mother, and her son Jeremy, whose appearance lights both Liz's world and the reader's. The relationships between children and parents and siblings are strained but loving and eternal, as indeed is the case with most families.
The novel, as so many of his, is set in Vancouver, but I think that this Vancouver is largely incidental; the changes in location are not as important as changes in time, and the locations rather reflect this. Rome and Vienna symbolise the old and Vancouver the new. Indeed in this novel, time is a location, and the differences between the world of the protagonist's childhood and the 21st Century are acute.
The novel explores the difference between a 70s where no-one locked their door and a child could wander miles from home on her own without alrming her parents, and the fearful nature and hyper-security of the post-September 11 world.
Coupland's novel is set partly in the post September 11 world, and in some ways Coupland is preoccupied with that event (not least as he has a new one-man show called September 10, about the 90s and the world prior to those events). This would suggest that a seismic shift has taken place over the world in the three years since then, and this novel does reflect that.
Except once, this shift is not specifically expressed, but as with all his novels, modern life and technology (which as it has 'progressed' from one Coupland novel to his next over the past decade and a half, we see is moving at an awesome pace), impinges on the lives of the characters as with all of us; in computers and communication, transport, medicine, and the impact on everyday lives of people of the events of September 2001.
Some of Coupland's previous work has dealt with apocalyptic themes very overtly (most obviously in Girlfriend in a Coma and Hey Nostradamus, but also in the fear of the Bomb in Generation X and other works). What we have in this novel is a world after an apocalypse has occurred, and we find that life does go on, and while the world does change, people's fears and preoccupations continue.
Loneliness is the central theme of this novel, but also family and death and love and the search for acceptance. Coupland shows us a world in which much has changed, but in which these themes are timeless.