- Paperback: 244 pages
- Publisher: Vintage Canada (June 29 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0679312706
- ISBN-13: 978-0679312703
- Product Dimensions: 12.5 x 1.8 x 20.1 cm
- Shipping Weight: 181 g
- Average Customer Review: 17 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #35,817 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Hey Nostradamus! Paperback – Jun 29 2004
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“[Douglas Coupland’s] focus is always on the moral implications, on human relationships and feelings. There is an almost spiritual aspect to his work that makes it emotionally compelling, and redemption is always at hand to pull his vision back from the brink of apocalypse. But more important perhaps, Coupland can write beautifully.” -- Toronto Star
“Coupland, once the wise guy of Generation X, has become a wise man.” -- People Magazine
"Fate is the psychological trigger in this often-hilarious novel, and Coupland knows when to trip the emotional safety catch." -- Elle Canada
"In Hey Nostradamus!, Coupland takes an insightful look at religion, loss and forgiveness and how everyone is always looking for, as he puts it, the 'equation that makes it all equate.' " -- Calgary Herald
“…[I]n Hey Nostradamus!, Coupland has fashioned his most serious and mature novel so far, mixing his youthful, exuberant prose with a certain compassion and restraint we haven’t seen from him before.…The leading literary voice of the most cynical generation lets it all out in a blaze of spirituality, terror, high comedy and soul-searching, and does it all in a way that is caring and clever, heart-breaking and hilarious, tough and tender. Hey Nostradamus! is not only Coupland’s best novel, but also one of the best of the year.” -- Hamilton Spectator
“…profoundly topical…[R]eligious angst has never been made so entertaining.” -- National Post
“Coupland’s writing is brilliant.” -- Canadian Press
“ …[Coupland] gets us thinking about spirituality and the meaning of life, and no matter how bad things get, when you put the book down you can’t help but feel hope, which is a comfort.” -- Georgia Straight
“…moving and tenderly beautiful….replete with Coupland’s breathtaking observations on consumer culture.” -- Vancouver Sun
Praise for Douglas Coupland:
“The intelligence and humour of Coupland’s prose engages the mind while the unabashed yearning of his characters hooks the heart.” -- Maclean’s
Praise for All Families Are Psychotic:
“As rich as an ovenful of fresh-baked brownies and twice as nutty. . . . Everyone with a strange family -- that is, everyone with a family -- will laugh knowingly at the feuding, conducted with a maestro’s ear for dialogue and a deep understanding of humanity. Coupland, once the wise guy of Generation X, has become a wise man.” -- People magazine
“It seemed paradoxical that a writer so revered for his hipness resembles, in practice, nobody so much as Jane Austen.... In the resultant unravelling there isn't a boring page.” -- The Literary Review
Praise for Miss Wyoming:
“The intelligence and humour of Coupland’s prose engages the mind while the unabashed yearning of his characters hooks the heart.” -- Maclean’s
About the Author
On Douglas Coupland’s website, there is a photograph from his art installation, Tropical Birds (2003). The installation includes a scene based on the reports of how the cafeteria appeared to rescuers and officials after the massacre at Columbine High School: backpacks strewn across tables and the floor, chairs knocked over, lunches unfinished. The accompanying audio track plays the sounds of birdsong. The piece was born out of rescuers’ comments that the sound of cellphones and pagers ringing in student backpacks – “like birds chirping” – combined with the gush of sprinklers to seem almost surreally tropical. Of course, the horror is that the phones and pagers announced desperate parents trying to reach their children.
The 1999 Columbine massacre was one impetus for Hey Nostradamus!, as it and other events, such as the École Polytechnique shootings and the attacks of 9/11, prompted Coupland to look at how we collectively deal with horror, grief and faith. Even the epigraph for the book, a passage from 1 Corinthians, is taken from a headstone of one of the Columbine victims. Though he did not have a religious upbringing, Coupland considers himself a very religious person, and over the years has found himself more and more interested in exploring questions of God and belief in his work.
Coupland approached writing Hey Nostradamus! like he does all of his novels: as he would an artwork – for him, the media are the same. As he commented in one interview, “What I do know is that there are certain feelings you can create within yourself and within someone engaging with what you’ve done that you can only get from looking at an art object, that you can’t get from words, and vice versa. And I don’t make that many distinctions in my head, I don’t see them as being very different from each other. I entered writing with words quite literally being arts supplies as objects, through Jenny Holzer and text art, and then the text art became long-form fiction, so in my head, I think of the new book, or the new novel, as being an art exhibition, and it’s different from the books that came before it.”
In fact, Coupland originally set out to be a designer and artist, in the conventional sense. He graduated from the sculpture program at Vancouver’s Emily Carr College of Art and Design in 1984, then attended the European Design Institute in Milan, Italy, and the Hokkaido College of Art and Design in Sapporo, Japan. In 1986, he completed a two-year course in Japanese business science along with fine art and industrial design. After taking on writing projects over the years, Coupland happened upon fame as a novelist when his first book, Generation X (1991), achieved unexpected and meteoric success. Since then he has published fourteen books of fiction and non-fiction, including the novels Microserfs (1995), Miss Wyoming (1999) and All Families Are Psychotic (2001), and the bestselling cultural explorations City of Glass (2000), Souvenir of Canada (2002) and Souvenir of Canada 2 (2004). In all, his work has been translated into 22 languages and published in 30 countries.
Douglas Coupland writes because it is something he simply loves to do. “What I found over the years is that since 1991 we’ve been through massive cultural, social, technological changes, and the only thing that protects me or you or anyone, the only thing that can protect you in all this is figuring out what it is that you like to do, and then sticking with it. Because once you start to do what people expect you to do, or what your parents think you should do, or whoever in your life thinks you should do, you’re sunk.” However, when one interviewer commented on his seemingly prolific writing career, Coupland disagreed. “I’m not the least bit prolific,” he responded. “I look at people with hard jobs and kids, and to me they’re the ones who are fantastically prolific.”
Though he was born on a Canadian Armed Forces base in Baden-Söllingen, Germany, in 1961, Douglas Coupland has made the Vancouver area his home since the age of four, and can hardly imagine living anywhere else. He currently lives in West Vancouver, in a Ron Thon-designed house, where he works as a writer, designer and visual artist. His art has recently appeared in San Francisco, Milan and Vancouver, and will be featured in upcoming shows in Toronto, London and Montreal. He has won two Canadian National Awards for Excellence in Industrial Design, and Hey Nostradamus! was nominated for the 2004 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book (Canada & Caribbean) and won the Canadian Authors Association Award for Fiction.
From the Hardcover edition.
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The novel told through the eyes of four people, and each person was strongly impacted by the narrator before him or her. The story begins with two high school sweethearts, Cheryl and Jason, who love each other immensely and get secretly married (both because they love each other and because they want to have sex without committing a sin). Cheryl, the first narrator, became religious because she liked Jason and he was very religious (because of family reasons), but she soon come to strongly associate with the faith personally and throughout her segment of the story she speaks only to god, and we the audience over hear her prayers. Then one day a couple of youths from their high school hijack the school cafeteria with a couple of guns and kill some people, one of those people being Cheryl. Jason comes in to save her at the last minute and kills one of the terrorists, but is too late to save Cheryl.
Jason is the next narrator and we come into his life several years after the tragedy. Though Jason was seemingly religious in high school, he was so because of his father's fervent, almost nervous devotion to religion. His father was a very judgmental man and Jason could never seem to do anything quite good enough to satisfy him. After the massacre it was rumoured that Jason had planned the entire thing, and of course a majority of the town believed it. Even after he was proved innocent by the law and was named a hero by some of the papers his father could only see the fact that he'd killed a boy, no matter how many lives he might have saved in the process. Jason's account is very bitter in some places. The world had not been kind to him and he could not move on. Unlike the other narrators, Jason's account doesn't largely deal with his own personal relationship with religion. He talks more about how others relationships with religion have affected him, and how even though he isn't religious himself, he still falls back on some of the institutional rituals followed by people who believe.
The next narrator is named Heather, a woman who enters a sort of awkward relationship with and eventually marries Jason. Jason disappears shortly after her segment begins, and Heather deals with a psychic named Allison who seems to be in contact with Jason on some sort of spiritual level. This segment was interesting for me because it made me reflect on how people in contemporary, secular society seem to find pathways to express some sort of religious behaviour. Obviously believing in a psychic being able to contact individuals is a reflection of faith on some level. But more than the whole psychic thing, what was interesting to observe was Heather's behaviour and relationship with her desire to contact this person. Her need at these times were, while completely devoid of religion, were still strongly tied to faith. And what's more is I could associate her behaviour to what I've seen people feel while in a romantic relationship, or while at work, or studying, etc. That almost feverish desire is present in many aspects of life, not just religion, and that calls into question where one can draw the line between faith and religion. Or where one can start to separate faith and spirituality. Religion has a very defined identity in pop culture, and if you're not a card carrying member, the idea of it can be very unattractive. But how many of our day to day hopes and dreams and actions could be classified by an outsider as being likened to what we classify religious action? Just something to think about.
The last narrator is Jason's father, Reg. We hear many tales of this man throughout the novel, most of them unflattering. So by the time we get to hear him speak there is already a sort of prejudice against the man. Reg's account is more of a reflection than it is a narration or a tale recounted. He speaks of his faith, but in a refreshing way that I will not go into detail about.
I listened to this book aurally and I really enjoyed the voice actors. I thought the people chosen were well suited to their roles and were a pleasure to listen to. Overall this was a good book and I would recommend it.
Nevertheless, I remain drawn to the novels of Douglas Coupland, who like me is from Vancouver. That despite his being an extreme example of "write what you know"--his characters are pretty much all young, white, and middle class; they live in the Western United States or just across the border in Canada; when they travel, they go to Vegas or Oregon or Seattle, never to Alberta or New York (forget about Japan or Madagascar); they all talk and think in some variation of semi-ironic, simile-heavy, pop-referencing Coupland-speak; their themes are sudden loss, pointless death, loneliness, running away, and vague dread, even from the afterlife; their tales often start strong and then slowly vaporize rather than coming to a strong conclusion. Clanking devices indeed.
Somehow, though, I don't care. His novels are better than his non-fiction, which (while entertaining) feels dashed-off, undisciplined, and improperly researched. In fiction, he takes advantage of those same tendencies to write with a strange propulsion, even when his characters are doing nothing but sitting and thinking. The stories are short but dense. His eye for detail evokes the true feelings of a place. Even his weakest books, such as "Shampoo Planet," "Girlfriend in a Coma," and "Miss Wyoming," have something to say, although neither the reader nor the writer might know exactly what that is.
"Hey Nostradamus!," from 2003, is an extreme example. It takes place almost entirely in North and West Vancouver, and revolves around kids in high school, and what becomes of them and their families. There are many deaths, some deserved, some uncertain, some shockingly random. It's about people who want to change themselves, but can't. Only one of the four major characters does change, and only far too late, when he's irrelevant to everyone to whom it would matter.
And yet, there at the end of the book, I nearly cried. I think it's Coupland's best written work since "Microserfs" a decade ago. Go read it.
That's the backdrop of this book that covers a high school shooting that is set in the supposedly peaceful world of western Canada. The aftermath of the shooting is told from the perspective of four different people. It includes the perspective of one of the victims. her boyfriend and his father. Along the way, the writer provides some interesting perspectives on religious belief, revenge and the animosity that humans can place on one another.
There really is no end to the book and it shows how the suffering from a violent crime can continue its impact long after the actual crime. Sometimes those impacts are caused by people who react to the crime and try to "fix" things.
In summary, if you want to read a book that will make you think and will challenge you, then pick this up. It's not overly ponderous and you can read it quickly but I guarantee that you will be thinking about it long after you are done reading it.
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