Thursday, September 24, 2009

Generation A or why we need to keep on reading. . .

One of the books that I was really disappointed not to see on the Giller longlist announced earlier this week, was Douglas Coupland's Generation A, which so far is my favourite Canadian novel of 2009. He just keeps getting better and better. His last few books have all been Dewey picks due to their quirky subject matter, humour, and just great storytelling. He is always ORIGINAL and when you read as much as I do for work, that's something to be truly grateful for. I don't know how he does it, but he always has his finger on the pulse of society's neuroses, spinning a tale around those anxieties that is not only enormously entertaining, but really makes one think. In this case, one trembles a bit too.

Generation A is set in the near future when nearly all the bees have disappeared; the site of the last known active beehive has now become a UNESCO World Heritage site. Flowers have vanished and crops are failing. One day five complete strangers (the narrators of the novel) are stung in different places around the world - New Zealand, Paris, a cornfield in Iowa, Sri Lanka and North Bay - and are immediately taken into custody by security forces, isolated, and subjected to a barrage of medical tests as scientists try to figure out why they attracted the bees. Each of the five eventually finds out about the others and starts to make contact. And when they finally meet. . .

I can't write any more without spoiling the story and anyways, this has one of those plots that is impossible to summarize satisfactorily. Suffice it to say that if society read a little more, and used their blackberries a little less, we'd all be better off. This novel was just so much fun to read - it' s spot on about our obsessions with the cult of celebrity, the online world, video games, processed food, sex and shopping, and prescription drugs guarenteed to make us happy. How selfish and narcissistic and mundane our modern world has become; we desperately need to keep those bees buzzing! Here's a brief description of that malaise:

I hate the way our bodies move through the world, clip-clop, like beef marionettes. I hate how the world has turned into one massive hamburger-making machine, how the world is only about people now - everything else on the planet must bow to our will because there's no longer any other option. Fundamentalists rejoiced when the bees died out; to them it was proof that the planet exists entirely for and was entirely about people. How could such thinking not make you want to go out and vomit into the street?
That quote could almost have come out of Margaret Atwood's new dystopian novel The Year of the Flood, and indeed, it would be fun to read the two books back to back or compare them in a bookclub. They have completely different narrative styles and stories, but both authors employ their sharp satirical bite to chew on the damage we are inflicting on our world. Please recommend both books to teens as well - they are the generation that needs to pay attention.

And finally if you want to know whether Douglas Coupland thinks this

is the most attractive, evil or loneliest letter of the alphabet, or need full instructions on how to make the Earth Sandwich described in Generation A, or are just curious about his answers to a number of other challenging questions, check out this YouTube video.


Ames said...

How *DO* you manage to read so much for work?

Maylin said...

HA - well, it's not always easy, especially since we do all our reading in our spare time. But it does get spread out. For example, I initially read Generation A in manuscript about six months ago and made some notes then - I don't blog about books for the most part until they are actually published. I usually have about 5 books or manuscripts on the go at any one time. The hardest part is recapturing the feel of a book read awhile ago, and what initially made you excited about it, when you finally get to talk or write about it in public. I always panic that I'll get something mixed up (or the finished book will have changed drastically from the manuscript). Still, I can't complain - if you have to take work home with you, I'm really lucky that it's such pleasurable work.