on 23 June 2004
Having recently read and revelled in Hey Nostradamus!, I have the mad-eyed messianic urge to convert about me. Well it is a novel about (among other things) religious belief...
For some reason I have managed to get this far in my reading life without ever opening a Douglas Coupland novel, possibly because I thought he would be glib and modish and too clever by half (that's Amis's job, heheh). And indeed they do say that Hey Nostradamus! is quite a change in direction for him, so maybe he was like that ... but this is a real treat: a sweet, moving, surprising and positively edible yarn about faith and love and life and death - without ever seeming forced or portentous. It was like splashing through and guzzling a delicious new brightly coloured drink and I absolutely adored it.
It concerns the long-term aftermath of a Columbine-style high school shooting, only this one took place in Vancouver in 1988. Cheryl Anway was the last one to be shot, in the school canteen, before one of the three gunmen ("gunboys, really") gets shot by one of the others, then Cheryl's secret 17-year-old husband and schoolfriend Jason bops one of the others with a rock, and the third gets crushed under a table by angry adrenaline-fuelled survivors. Just before she dies she has been writing on her school folder GOD IS NOWHERE / GOD IS NOW HERE / GOD IS NOWHERE / GOD IS NOW HERE. And so in turn we hear from Cheryl - from beyond the grave - Jason, Jason's second wife Heather and Jason's tyrannical father Reg, the sort of man who puts the mental into fundamentalist.
Because the book is so heavily - but lightly - infused with death (one dead narrator, and others talking to the dead or having the dead talk to them), it attains a sort of spirituality that is far more likely to fulfil Life of Pi's pledge to make you believe in God than that book ever did. And this in turn means that whenever the plot takes a sudden hairpin or drops open to reveal a wildly unlikely development, we don't mind - or I didn't anyway. As I was reading it, I thought Coupland was taking a risk with such a good-natured and humane book to have mad-bastard Reg narrating the last section, but as time goes on (each chapter is not only narrated by a different character, but takes place some years after the previous one; thus giving Coupland the scope for more ambitious storytelling), Reg softens and even ends up a goody. I still thought his chapter was the weakest but it, and the book, does end with a tremendously moving statement of hope which brought to mind the last line of that other faith-based masterpiece, A Prayer for Owen Meany.
As you can tell, I just can't praise Hey Nostradamus! highly enough. I feel positively giddy with excitement at the prospect of all this Coupland back catalogue to discovery (already I have picked up Miss Wyoming, Microserfs, and Girlfriend in a Coma), and also slightly apprehensive in case this one really is his best, or at least unrecognisably different. But I have faith in this man.
on 23 April 2008
Hey Nostradamus was quite different from all of Douglas Coupland's other book that I had previously read. If you're looking for another Generation X, Microserfs, etc then leave this book for the time being but do go back to it when you're in the mood for a more thoughtful and reflective Coupland.
Inspired (perhaps that's not the most appropriate word), by the events at Colombine High and more specifically, the case of one victim who reportedly refused to deny her Faith when asked by the killers to reject God, this is an interesting look at what that young girl's life might have been like leading up to the shootings.
In the aftermath of the shootings, the media, and to a similar extent the US nation, sought to make a martyr out of this girl, perhaps as a need to make sense or salvage some good from the event. The more sceptical questioned the initial accounts of the incident, resulting in considerable doubt on how the conversation between the killers and their victim actually transpired.
Coupland seems to take up this idea and writes the story of an ordinary Vancouver schoolgirl who just happens to be present in the cafeteria when a school shooting unfolds. How the event is interpreted by those in the community questions the real life incidents at Colombine and battles against the alleged media-created martyrdom. My take on it is that Coupland challenges the idea that there is often more value in the idea of how something than how it actually happened. Richard III and Boris Gudunov were probably not the evil prince-killers that Shakespeare and Pushkin portrayed them to be but we have accepted that in their cases, the myth is more valuable than historic truth. Hey Nostradamus suggests that Coupland disagrees.
on 28 May 2004
I haven't read any Douglas Coupland apart from this novel, but rest assured that the minute I press "submit" on this review I'll be going down to the library to check out the rest of them!
"Hey Nostradamus" is a story told from the viewpoint of four very different people: Cheryl, the wistful teenager cut down in her prime; Jason, her guiltstricken, psychologically scarred husband; Heather, his loving girlfriend; and Reg, his religious and ultimately crushed father. After a gun massacre in the school cafeteria, the lives of all four characters are changed irrevocably.
Coupland's characters are delightfully believable and human. You find yourself caring for all of them, even the most unlikeable ones. He has a clever "Chinese box style" narrative of placing stories within stories, and using letters, etc. as a way of communicating the feelings of other, minor characters. The intricacy of the book's structure makes it a joy to read, as well as the breath-takingly intense plot.
on 15 January 2004
Up until Girlfriend in a Coma, Coupland couldn't do any wrong for me. Miss Wyoming and All Families are Pyschotic were averag-ish, camped up, and what I imagine Carl Hiaasen would be like if I ever read him. There comes a point when I don't find it particularly novel or informative to have the names of corporate franchises inserted as generic locations - or enjoy a pulp fiction derivative script, played out by human signposts that seem as plastic as their environments.
In short, I was pretty disillusioned, and I came to Hey Nostrodamus thinking it would be where I'd finally had enough of Coupland. And that would have been a real shame for me, because I'd loved his first three novels.
But...... Hey Nostrodamus is brilliant. It manages to pull off what Girlfriend in a Coma didn't. It explores issues of faith in a secular world. Okay, so it isn't Dostoyevsky, but it manages to create characters that are fully engaging, and it's very moving. I couldn't stop reading it, which is probably the highest complimemt I could pay a book.
There is one daftish, pulp fiction bit remaining as a plot device (ie the walk in the woods with yorgo), which I won't elaborate because it might spoil the story, but that's forgivable, bearing in mind the extent to which he's managed to make the central characters live and breathe. By the end of the book they seem like real people.
I think that the essence of the story is it's good heartedness. It was a joy to read, and a real return to form. I'd put it up there with his best - which is saying a lot.
I've only read two Coupland books - in fact only one if you want to be picky because I listened to this one as an audiobook. Nevertheless, Coupland's insight and manner of storytelling has me hooked. He is different to anyone else that I've ever read.
There are two aspects to this review - the story itself, and the narration of the audiobook.
First up - the story. Coupland takes the one incident, a high school massacre, and tells how it impacted the lives of four people from their perspective. But cleverly he doesnt look at the massacre four times, but at the story of one set of relationships and how they are impacted by the one event. It is a linear story rather than a cyclical one. It continuously moves in unexpected ways without being trite or convoluted. Each of the four parts is a soliloquy, or a monologue - following the thoughts and feelings of the character, and at the same time developing the storyline.
Its hard to write anymore about the story without giving too much away, so I'll stop here!
Next up - the audiobook. Wow! Tremendous narration. Four different narrators used - one for each section of the book. The only confusion was at one point in the first part when other people seem to be praying, and it isnt clear in the audio that they are different because the same narrator speaks their part. It is clear enough in the print version because the page is set out differently. That aside I would gladly listen to it again. The last narrator is especially good. Excellent casting.
Powerful story, excellently narrated.
on 30 March 2004
It was thought provoking, gripping and in many places beautifully poetic. Extremely clever, and deep without ever seeming in the least bit pretentious. I can't recommend this book enough. I sat in silence for maybe ten minutes when I had finished it, just staring at the front cover. It was like the end of a superb movie, when you feel you need the closing credits and music to slowly drag youself back to the real world.
on 27 January 2005
This is the first Douglas Coupland book I've read, and I absolutely adored it.
The story is narrated by four different people, all affected in some way by a Columbine-style high school massacre in 1988 North Vancouver. The first is Cheryl, a 17 year old who was killed in the shootings and tells her story from a vague afterlife. Second is Jason, secretly married to Cheryl, and who seems unable to leave her death in his past. Third is Heather, who falls in love with Jason, yet never seems able to really get to know him completely, and finally, Reg - Jason's tyrannically religious father.
This book managed to make me both laugh out loud and cry in almost equal measure, and is a simply stunning book. To use that cliché - I just couldn't put it down. I would recommend this to absolutely everybody, regardless of your taste in books.
on 18 January 2014
Around the turn of the century, the US was collectively traumatised by High School-shootings and the 911 attacks. Hey Nostradamus! is Douglas Coupland's astonishing, humane response. Rather than aspire to sweeping statements about society, he focuses on four of the lives that were profoundly affected by a senseless school massacre.
The four characters start with victim Cheryl, young, in love, and a realistic seventeen. She has a naive, pure faith in God and her boyfriend Jason, who finds himself vilified for his part in the attack. Jason is deeply damaged, a lost soul who cannot escape the impact of that day. He questions himself ruthlessly and suffers terrifying blackouts. The third chapter is narrated by the lovely Heather, intelligent, quirky and lonely who falls in love with Jason. And the final, briefest chapter is left to the enigmatic Reg, the father who Jason hates with a compulsive passion.
The book has an elegant, logical structure: the four characters each tell their stories in turn, overlapping and continuing as the ripples of the attack flow forward in time. This structure seems to me to hold the fragile stories in place, to give them some security and a sense of a framework that belies the truth that there stories all have no beginning and no end.
on 22 November 2007
This was the first Coupland book I'd read - it is amazing. Like some of the other reviewers I now recommend it to everyone who asks 'read anything good lately'. I am resisting giving too much detail on the plot as it will draw you in slowly and then, in the final chapter, it will spit you out, reeling as your brain comes to comprehend the hurt felt by one of the characters in a scene with such strong spiritual overtones that anyone with a heart will weep.
on 28 December 2003
It was interesting to see old hand Coupland and newcomer DBC Pierre covering ostensibly similar ground this year. Very different books, but both very well worth buying. This is a musing, on a personal level, about how much like our parents we turn out to be, even within our own youthful rebellion, and, on a wider scale, about the place of religion in society. Performed with much greater poise than, say, Houellebeq, and perhaps with more subtlety than last year's wonderful 'Life of Pi', this discussion is forceful and thought-provoking without, I think, being overtly judgemental.
If it were just a discussion of issues between dust jackets, then 'Hey, Nostradamus!' would not be worth buying. What makes this a great book is Coupland's lively, dynamic insistence on character and story. Things keep happening to people who are interesting. He never serves us up someone else's inventions but always intriguing characters whom we don't fully understand. So we must read on.
Coupland changes tack every time things start to get stale. There's why four not five stars from me: it does start to get stale here and there (that, and the title, which is rather oddly chosen, I think). But, unlike the old Ford Madox Ford type of unfathomable, aimless tedium that used to flow from 'literary impressionism', this book maintains a clear focus and its pace is strong. We care about the charcters and what happens to them. This is definitely one of his best novels. And the cover is nice, too.