One of the good things about belonging to a book club is reading a writer new to me. The prize in this category for last year (2007) goes to Douglas Coupland’s HEY NOSTRADAMUS! It was my first Douglas Coupland, a much-published Vancouver writer and artist. This is the same Douglas Coupland credited with coining the ‘Generation X’ label. His GIRLFRIEND IN A COMA has been waiting in my TO-READ stack for several months, and his JPod is currently a series on CBC. How have I missed Coupland, reading as I have in CanLit for several decades? That fact that he seems somehow to be outside the CanLit sphere is a sad comment on our Left Coast and how disconnected we often feel to life east of the Rockies.
Although you would not guess as much from the title, HEY NOSTRADAMUS! is set very particularly in Canada, specifically in North Vancouver and the Fraser Valley. What is even better is the way Coupland uses place for purposes of plot, character development, and theme. His setting is the “Bible belt” and one of his themes seems to be the connection between religion and evil events in society (in this case, a school shooting in North Van and its effects on the four point-of-view characters). The shooting which initiates the action of the novel reminds us of Columbine but is certainly also alluding to similar shootings in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, and Alberta. This strikes me as a comment upon how the American-media filter through which we view pop culture and current events distances and separates us from our own Canadian reality.
The crucial role religion plays in the emotional and physical violence of HEY NOSTRADAMUS! is a brave theme for any writer. The title, linking us to a sixteenth century European visionary, forces us to confront the puzzle which many cultures ponder--whether we control our own destiny or whether everything is pre-ordained. The way Coupland has integrated the Sasquatch myth is also masterful. Sasquatch, the local Halkomelem name for the creature known elsewhere as Bigfoot, is part of the culture of the First People of this place and seems to represent, as it does in Eden Robinson’s MONKEY BEACH, the survival of Spirit / Magic / Wonder in a non-believing world.
Reading this book, enjoying it as much as I did, makes me wonder: Why isn’t Douglas Coupland even more celebrated? I did see him once, at a function at the Vancouver Museum, and realized as I listened in on a private conversation that it was the first time I had ever heard him speak. More recently, because of JPod and a new novel release, THE GUN THIEF, I’ve heard him interviewed on Sounds Like Canada and The Hour. It’s about time; we need more of this. We need our own Canadian Charlie Rose, someone not ashamed of “talking heads”, who will invite creative people (more than celebrities), cultural builders, eccentrics, and engage them in intelligent conversation upon which the rest of us can eavesdrop. Hey, Canada!
Check out Amazon.com for a list of titles and Coupland.com for a reveal of what the cover image represents.
Oops! 500 words