Coupland’s latest novel is a break of pattern with mostly successful consequences, writes Cormac Duffy
Generation A, the thirteenth novel from Douglas Coupland, marks a reinvention of sorts for the Canadian author. While most of his previous novels have found their success by allowing their quirky characters and sharp cultural commentary take the spotlight, his latest novel breaks the trend with its sprawling story.
Best read as a dystopian novel, it is set in the kind of future that pervades much of the work as a distant fear. It’s a future on the brink of ecological collapse due to the supposed extinction of bees – so when five individuals across the world are stung, the world desperately looks to them for solutions. Equally central to the plot is the mysterious new drug Solon, a powerful and addictive sedative with more than a passing resemblance to Brave New World’s Soma, turning the world’s population into solitude-loving drones. The use of Solon as a plot device builds a level of dramatic tension that the author has hitherto never managed to create, highlighting Coupland’s successful expansion of style.
Moreover, the style is vintage Coupland: heavy on pop culture which contains a world of affable, authentic characters such as Diana, who suffers from the awful combination of having Tourette Syndrome – whilst simultaneously being in love with both the Pastor and with Harj, a Sri Lankan call centre operator with dreams of one day seeing Connecticut. The latter excellently highlights the contrast between his culture and ours, as he sees a visit to the ‘exotic’ Abercrombie & Fitch headquarters as a pilgrimage. He talks of his brother’s tour guide job as a proclamation of their wish to ‘find themselves’. Yet, their trips always degenerate into sex tourism.
Coupland’s press are billing the new novel as a spiritual sequel to his renowned debut Generation X, which leaves the book with rather large, zeitgeist-capturing shoes to fill. This means that, like all of Coupland’s work, much of the discussion surrounding it will be on how he has failed to live up to his debut masterpiece – a fate the book does not deserve. In itself, it is an absorbing read, with equal parts dark humour and even darker introspection about human nature, scientific advancement and their difficult relationship. The least that can be said is that it serves as a reassuring reminder that Coupland has life in him yet, and will continue to analyse the strange ways of our times for a long time to come.