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Girlfriend In A Coma
by Douglas Coupland

Category: Fiction / General
281 pages; ISBN: 0-00-655127-0

Rating: 8/10  (Ratings explained)
Reviewer: Dale


Douglas Coupland's fifth novel traces the experiences from 1979 to 1997 of a group of friends as they have to cope with an inexplicable tragedy, growing older and finally the end of the world.

Douglas Coupland announced the arrival of the nineties with "Generation X" and here he is sending them on their way with an apocalyptic tale set in his home city of Vancouver. In some ways this follows on from his previous book, "Microserfs" wherein his usual cast of all-too-knowing twentysomethings began to perceive stronger values emerging through the mist of their geeky preoccupations. Here though, Coupland almost completely jettisons the scatter-gun irony of that novel and hits his targets square on. While many features are familiar from his earlier works - the premature death of a loved one, the omnipresence of the shopping mall - there is a sense of urgency that is entirely new.

The novel is divided into three parts. Part One begins on Dec 15th 1979 when seventeen-year-old Richard loses his virginity with girlfriend Karen, is entrusted with her glimpse of a bleak future and then watches helplessly as she falls into a vegetative coma. The rest of this section tracks the progress of Richard and his friends as they try and fail to find fulfilment through the 1980s and gravitate back to each other in time for Karen's reawakening on October 31st 1997.

In Part Two, the euphoria of Karen's return slides quickly into the apocalypse
of which she is the herald. Part Three is concerned with its aftermath.

Parts One and Two are absolutely superb. Coupland tells the story of his teenagers' gradual disillusion with an economy that avoids the risk of mawkishness and is all the more poignant for it. You don't have to agree (though I do) with his viewpoint that with the seventies "left a sweetness, a gentleness" to be moved by Richard's assertion that the physically decaying Karen "provided the idea that some frail essence from a now long-vanished era still existed". The onrush of the apocalypse is a real page-turner as the world's jaded population literally falls asleep and doesn't wake up. I particularly enjoyed Karen's vision of an abandoned office "yellow sticky notes falling like leaves from a tree onto the carpeting".

Alas none of this is sustained in Part Three. Richard is shoved aside- a great mistake- and the narration is commandeered by Jared the ghost of his deceased friend. He buzzes about the dazed survivors dispensing gifts and crumbs of wisdom in a manner reminiscent of Disney's Jiminy Cricket and sadly he's just as irritating. And Jared/Coupland fails to deliver the punchline; his final exhortation to Richard, Karen and their pals is vague and vacuous. Coupland is masterful at showing us what's gone wrong with the world but he hasn't come up with an escape route - at least not yet.

This is a very good book indeed but not quite the classic it was shaping up to be.


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