Sunday, 31 August 2014

Generation A by Douglas Coupland Review


Douglas Coupland's Generation A sees a not-too-distant world of ours devoid of bees and therefore things like fruit and flowers. A strange drug called Solon is sweeping the planet, it's effects rendering the user carefree and unafraid of the future with a deep inner peace that stops them interacting with other humans and makes them seek solitude. Highly addictive, the drug is wiping out human creativity as well as the bees. 

Five people, seemingly random, across the planet are stung by bees. They are suddenly whisked away for testing and become instant global celebrities. Shortly after being released back into the world they are recaptured and taken to a remote island off the coast of Canada and made to tell stories, the idea being something in the telling of stories releases a protein into their blood and the mixture could become a cure for Solon. 

Well, damn the negative reviews, because I loved it! Generation A mixes two of Coupland's strengths - his humour, like in Microserfs and jPod, and his humanity, like in Eleanor Rigby - together with his semi-realistic visions of futuristic society. The result is his best book to date. 

If you've read Coupland before you'll know his love of employing gimmicks into his stories. The reams of numbers in jPod showing pi or the novel within a novel in The Gum Thief or the new dictionary slang of Generation X; in Generation A, the second half is taken up by short stories told by the characters. While this might irritate some readers (short stories are notoriously niche) let me tell you that the stories are brilliant. They not only fit into the themes of the book but are also great stories to be enjoyed for the sake of stories. 

I won't go into too much analysis here but what I got from Coupland was his message of humans telling stories to humans is essentially what makes us human. While Solon (so alone?) is a futuristic drug that induces in the user the feeling of having read a thousand books in an hour, telling stories engages the teller and the listener in the present and keeps us together. The overall message is of stories and company and how this is the only antidote to the growing isolation of humans as a result of the tidal wave of technology. 

Read without any subtext, the book is a joy for the reader and a masterclass in writing from Coupland. The swift pacing is kept up throughout and the world he portrays, while different, retains an eerie sense of familiarity. 

Generation A is accessible for new readers and old and while Coupland has his ups and downs (to be expected from a writer whose approaches and ideas towards fiction changes from one book to the next) this is most certainly a brilliant novel and easily one of his best. Amazing stuff, highly recommended.

Generation A

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