More Douglas Coupland Novels – “The Gum Thief” and “Hey, Nostradamus!”

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Just had a nice cup of tea and finished reading The Gum Thief the latest novel by Douglas Coupland. My interest in Coupland’s work was triggered by the JPod TV series and the original novel I recently read.

I found JPod to be very accessible probably due to the technology based subject matter but this book was a little more work. I suspect I have got out of the habit of reading and when I have read in the past it tends to be the usual sci-fi or horror genre.

Never the less, The Gum Thief is filled with clever observations and Coupland’s sense of humor. The plot, and there isn’t one really is about an overweight 20 something Goth girl (Bethany) who develops an unlikely friendship with an alcoholic, aspiring author (Roger) when she finds his journal and starts corresponding with him. Roger is a mid-40’s burnout working a customer service job at a Staples. He is divorced, still in shock from the death of one of his children, and trying to find meaning in a life that’s over half gone.

The book is made up entirely of documents written by the characters in the novel including Roger’s journal entries, his novel in progress “Glove Pond”, letters, creative writing essays, and email messages. Something called an epistolary novel I have since discovered. Bethany and later on her mother DeeDee convince Roger to finish “Glove Pond” which is frankly terrible, and initially I found these parts difficult to read, but perseverance paid off.

The Gum Thief is a work about growing older and coping with life when things don’t turn out the way you planned. It is also about loneliness and isolation and highlights the way that people can often express ourselves more openly with strangers or on the written page.

Whether I would recommend this book I am not sure, but I did find it a worthwhile read.

Interestingly design house Crush Inc have created a series of video projects based on the book that appear on Coupland’s own website.

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The other Coupland book in my local library was “Hey, Nostradamus!” which I finished reading on Saturday, my wife has commented on my rediscovered love of books. I have not watched much TV of late, probably a reaction to losing the satellite TV. Actually enjoying sitting reading, listening to music and drinking the odd class of whisky in the evening.

Hey Nostadamus! is apparently Coupland’s most critically acclaimed work. First published in 2003 the novel comprises of four first-person narratives, each from the perspective of a character directly or indirectly impacted by a fictional 1988 school shooting in suburban Vancouver. The novel touches on many issues, including adolescent love, sex, religion and grief. For a plot summation I suggest you read the wikipedia entry.

I found the first narrative, which described the actual shooting from the viewpoint of Cheryl one of the victims, the most engaging but must admit I found the other sections a bit hard-going and not very enjoyable. I did contemplate giving up and re-reading it at a later date.

I think I will give Coupland a rest for now and will hunt out a copy of Microserfs to read in the future.