Readers of Douglas Coupland's more recent fictions have become accustomed to encountering characters touched by tragedy, whether it be falling into comas, surviving plane crashes or becoming infected with the AIDS virus after bizarre shooting incidents. Hey Nostradamus!
is no exception: a novel in four voices. The opening narrator, Cheryl Anway, is the 17-year-old victim of a Columbine-style high-school massacre. Just before she was murdered in 1988, Cheryl had secretly married her high-school sweetheart Jason Klaasen and was expecting their child. The couple were part of a zealously evangelical Christian group, Youth Alive! whose members, immediately after the slaying, falsely accused Jason of masterminding the incident.
Eleven years later, Jason is still coming to terms with Cheryl's death. He is, as he admits to his faithful dog Joyce, a "social blank with a liver like the Hindenburg
embarrassed by how damaged he is and by how mediocre he turned out". (He fits bathrooms for a living.) Jason is also scarred by his relationship with his father Reg, a religious pedant so unyielding that he drove his wife into alcoholism and who genuinely believes that one of his identical twin grandsons cannot possess a soul.
Coupland persistently dissects notions of morality, faith, belief, forgiveness and devotion here. Even Reg, who leads the very final section of the story, is a multifaceted figure whose religiosity is handled with a surprising degree of compassion. Loss, however, is the main theme, exemplified by the fact that its two main characters are absent presences. Cheryl is dead throughout and by the time Heather, Jason's new partner, takes up the narrative, Klaasen has himself disappeared. His vanishing act forces her to engage Allison, the book's dubious Nostradamus; she is a fake psychic intent on ripping Heather off, yet mysteriously in possession of cannily specific "messages" from Jason.
The book's structure, epistolatory in parts, can make the story appear unfocused; some sections certainly err toward the frenetic, incident-wise, but Coupland's tremendous wit, humanity and moral force carry it along. As ever, splutters of dates and pop trivia mingle with profound reflections on life and death; surely, only Coupland nowadays could mark the time of day with a reference to McDonalds breakfasts and pull it off. That said, there's a very slight harking back to Life After God--the cartoon characters that Heather and Jason invent do seem rather similar to Doggles, the Dog who wore Goggles, and Squirrelly the Squirrel. Nonetheless, where those stories were about the "first generation raised without religion" this moving, prescient novel takes a long hard look at those who choose God, or have God thrust upon them. --Travis Elborough
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
‘Douglas Coupland has surely reserved his place at the top table of North American fiction.’ Independent on Sunday
‘Nothing less than sublime’ Time Out
‘This is far too wise a book to offer answers, but it affirms that seeking them is a necessary part of our humanity.’ Independent
‘Clever, affecting… God it was a pleasure to read.’ Ali Smith, author of Hotel World