Bethan ‘slacker’ Cole gets spiritual

with the guru of the

twentysomething generation, Douglas Coupland, as she explores his transition from cynical wag to

postmodern religion-seeker.

A couple of months ago that ‘low culture for highbrows' magazine, The Modern Review announced irony was no longer fashionable. it is now , passe to excuse activities such as eatingjunk food or . I a" _ , a I fancying Barry Grant from Brookside with a tongue- in-cheek riposte. A new era of faith, sincerity and feelings has dawned and as a generation of post- cynical, post-postmodem hipsters try desperately to get ‘back to basics’ and ‘in touch with their real feelings’ they may well look upon Douglas Coupland's third novel Life after God as their bible. it certainly looks the part: compact, unadorned (urging the removal of its cover) compared with the playful style mag-cum-novel format of Generation X or mirrored cover of Shampoo Planet. Where a glossary of Jenny Holler-style soundbites interacted with the main text in Generation X, naive line drawings of animals and landscapes intersperse the writing in Life After God. in a recent interview Coupland explained the function of the artwork,

able to shake completely . . . of darkness and inevitability and fascination.‘ Coupland sharply undercuts this moment, following it with a scene where the 30-year-old Andrew is picking ‘cottage

* cheesy guck' from his dogs' snouts which he

suspects to be ‘yuppie liposuction fat‘. Life After God distills the spirit of this initial fifteen-year-old epiphany, ditching the ironic kicks provided by yuppie liposuction fat and product name-checks for something far less sophisticated on the surface.

in the final story. ‘1000 years after God’, Julie, an old friend, tells Scout: ‘l’m trying to escape from ironic hell, cynicism into faith, randomness into clarity; worry into devotion.‘ The search for faith in a 'faithless world is heavily related to both ageing (nearing 30?) and having children. Speaking earlier

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this year, Coupland explained how growing older had changed him personally: ‘As 1 age, i find myself (quite naturally i think) looking for transcendent values. Where is faith located in the modern world? What do people do with their need to believe when there is no organised satisfying vessel for this need?’

Following Generation X and Shampoo Planet was always going to be difficult. Establishing a belief system after the all-encompassing cynicism of these novels could be compared to the theoretical quest to follow and somehow surpass postmodernism. How to break out of an ironic cycle where nothing was new and every escape route had been pre-empted.

Generation x by

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saying: ‘l think they give the words a sense of silence. Each illustration allows for a pause for reflection.‘

Reflection, revelation, sentiment; Life After God eschews its predecessors ridicule and avoidance of emotionalism. tuming inwards to try to find an essentialist human nature. At the start of Generation X, the narrator Andrew describes how as a fifteen- year—old he flew to Brandon, Manitoba to witness an eclipse and felt ‘a mood that l have never really been

Unfortunately Coupland has predicted the particular exit route he takes in Life After God in Generation X: ‘Me-ism: A search by an individual in the absence of training in traditional religious tenets, to formulate a personally tailored religion by himself. Most frequently a mish-mash of reincarnation, personal dialogue with a nebulously defined God-figure. naturalism and karmic eye-for-eye attitudes.‘ Generation X is published by Abacus at f 7. 99. Shampoo Planet is published by 7buchstone at £5.99 and Life After God is published by Simon and Sehuster at £8. 99.

:— Oink !

Although Pig is not a Scottish novel, you could be forgiven for initially mistaking it as one. It shares the themes, locations and even the language of many a socio-realistic book published over the past decade. indeed, the dust-jacket proclaims it ‘a remarkable evocation of urban decay.’ if that has a familiar ring, the novel’s backdrop - the trials and tribulations of communities shattered by broken promises and a lost industrial heritage - further conflmrs the speculation. ilowever, lust as the feeling of «is vu creeps up on you with more originality, more vitality and certainly more aggression, Pig introduces a new aspect to novels of urban decay - racism.

This is the bittersweet story of adolescent love pangs and Inter-racial conflict. Set In a once-thriving community reliant on a now deserted steelworks, the story follows the life

Danny and Surinder is both very nasty

of fifteen-year-old Danny as he attempts to form a bridge between two cultures - the past culture of his ailing grandfather whose pig he finds himself looking after and the new racist culture that comes between him and his girlfriend Surinder.

Larger autobiographical, the book draws parallels between the pull of the past and the pressure of the present in different urban locations. “The culture in which I grew up in and around Corby had a large Scottish community who had arrived in the town to work at the steelworks and much of this ionns the basis of Pig,’ says Cowan.

Though the novel is unsurprising with its self-conscious paeans to

g 2' i I

Cowan. ‘But the experience of Surinder and her family moving into the white monoculture of a new town is meant as a strong theme.’

The vital, if obvious, question is: Why Pig? ‘For me Pig is a metaphor,’ says Cowan. ‘it stands for the community Danny’s grandparents had known, a community based on sharing. It also stands for misunderstanding as people mistake the role of pigs and other farm animals in the diets of Sikh or Muslim families. For Danny, the kind of sharing culture his grandparents had known is attractive, but he is also blind to the reality of the culture emerging from the deterioration of the community.’

Where Pig escapes (lust) revisionist

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disappearing cultures and lifestyles, ' the prominent theme of emerging racism saves it from being a pale imitation. At least there is a spark of menace about the narrative, the understanding that what happens to

slumber of a new town.’

Increases, with Surinder’s and very likely, with Danny’s fragile liberal consciousness reflecting

Cowan’s own experience. lie says: out to write an anti-racist

‘Rock Against Racism gigs awakened myself, like many others, out of the

As the book progresses, the tension between white and black families

suffering taunts and damage to their property. ‘I haven’t deliberately set

sentimentalism is through the exposure of Danny’s images of the past as fragile and ultimately self- defeating. Where Plg works is In the simple yet lasting description of Surlnder’s family shop being burned down by racists. (Toni Davidson)

Pig by Andrew Cowan is published by hisicbael Joseph at £12.99 on August


book,’ says

The List 29 July—ll August 1994 73