Top positive review
23 people found this helpful
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.