I loved Douglas Coupland’s 1991 novel Generation X. I read it again and again and again. Lovely Mum obviously remembers my fondness for the fluorescent pink tome as she bought me the sequel in my latest batch of books.
Generation A. I have been saving it as a kind of ‘treat book’, to be read upon finishing a more challenging, ‘worthy’ book. I thought I’d tear through it greedily…but I was to be disappointed. Set in the near future, where bees are extinct, five seemingly unconnected people around the world are suddenly stung. The blurb promises that ‘their shared experience unites them in ways they could never imagine’. Well, let me warn you right now, it does not. Not in any meaningful way. They remain just a bunch of bland, irritating, superficial cardboard cutouts.
Diana, the Christian spinster with Tourette’s, held my interest for a glimmer of a minute before I realised that she too was just another mouthpiece for Coupland’s clichés. Harj, the Sri Lankan call centre worker, was also readable. But the others? I got to the point where I was just skimming the pages rather than reading their narratives. Julien was the worst. A smug World of Warcraft fanatic, he insisted on reproducing pages of gaming narrative as well as a long plot summary of the sci-fi anime Space Battleship Yamato. Yawn. I get that Julien is meant to be annoying but there’s no excuse for devoting a near-fifth of your book to a character so dreary that readers will barely be bothered to hold the book open at the right page.
On a flimsy premise, the characters sit around telling short stories that have recurring motifs but there’s no substance anywhere – get a bunch of self-absorbed teenagers together to tell ‘stories’ and this is exactly the sort of pseudo-hip-sounding crap they’ll come out with. Contrived doesn’t even cover it.
I wanted so much to enjoy this book but I couldn’t dredge up the slightest appreciation for the characters or their ‘insights’. The premise sounded good but nothing lay beyond. A quarter of the way through, I still hoped for more. Two hundred pages of treading water later, I realised it was never going to happen. Coupland throws all the right buzzwords into the mix but he says nothing new or interesting about his chosen topics. The extinction of bees, the future of the planet…it all sounds so promising! But to quote the Telegraph, “It is a novel based solely on its clever packaging of plot; it is gadget or gimmick fiction”. Too true, sadly. It’s like Coupland had the idea for a great book and then was just too lazy to actually fill in the blanks.
I can’t work out whether I’ve simply grown up and left Coupland behind or whether he genuinely was edgy and cool with Generation X but has become lazy and complacent and is now churning out glib, charmlesss rubbish. I’m certainly not re-reading Generation X to find out. Let it stay in the past and let me remember it with affection… and if you too have a fondness for Coupland’s early books, consider yourself warned.