That book was packed with the ephemera of contemporary life — bumper stickers, TV re-runs, tranquillisers — and the pop culture references continue apace in Girlfriend In A Coma, which takes it’s name from the Smiths song and incorporates Morrissey’s lyrics into the text. Coupland — who’s currently into Radiohead, St Etienne and Belle And Sebastian — also namechecks New Order and Liam Gallagher.
But Girlfriend is Coupland’s most damning indictment of the evils of contemporary society to date. It’s also his most spiritual novel, cutting down on the buzzwords and hipster irony in favour of a greater maturity and darkness of tone.
This isn’t surprising. This is the man who once said ‘Your 20s are muck and shit and pain and loneliness and horror’. This is the man whose last book, Polaroids From The Dead, featured such cheery items as a literary requiem for Kurt Cobain and a discussion of the OJ. Simpson murder trial. This is the man who wrote Girlfriend In A Coma in I996, during a bout of severe depression, when he ‘could barely open a can of soup or put gas in the car tank.’
The most polemical aspect of Girlfriend is
minutes before being
its condemnation of the 90s work ethic. As Coupland writes, ‘The whole world is only about work: work work work get get get . . . People are frazzled and angry, desperate about money, and, at best, indifferent to the future’. This is a belief which emerges from
'l've had about 25 jobs in "fis‘y'er haYlng , arrived at writing
my life, but I always got via time spent the hell out about three SCU‘PF‘"3 and attending art school.
He has never been a serious candidate for the nine-to-flve gﬁnd.
‘I think that you might as well work at what you enjoy doing because, even if you succeed at a job you don’t really like, you’ll only be contemptuous of that success,’ says Coupland. ‘l’m not a good employee — the moment I stop learning anything new, I quit. I’ve had about 25 jobs in my life, and I enjoyed every one of them, but I always got the hell out about three minutes before being ﬁred.
‘My big beef with modern working life is that it not only makes you stray away from what it is you enjoy doing, but that it also makes you forget what it was you enjoyed doing after a while.’
One feature that Girlfriend has in common with Coupland’s previous work is its attack on consumerism. In Generation X, the end of the world is described from the perspective of a shopper; in the new novel, a supermarket is also the scene for apocalyptic depictions. He explains this with a typical Couplandism: ‘I think of supermarkets and malls as being a strong embodiment of secular culture. We tend to think of them as being immune to organic assaults from both weather and creatures.’
Coupland is so adept at summarising the essence of a culture that we can doubtless expect some keen insights into British society when he visits later this month. Right, Doug?
‘You know what I think of when I think of coming to Britain?’ he asks, tantalisingly. ‘Those chicken sandwiches you get on the trains there — with cucumber and cream cheese — I could eat about 30 of them. And Wendy Richards.’
He’s really serious.
Girlfriend In A Coma is published by HarperCollins on Monday 20 April at £12.99. Douglas Coupland will be at Waterstone's. 128 Princes Street, Edinburgh on Ihursday 23 April, 7pm.
Reader meet author
Some more (imaginary) novels named after Smiths songs.
'Shoplifters Of The World Unite' by Irvine Welsh
Two radges with gladioli hanging
'Frankly Mr Shankly’ by Nick Hornby
A trendy teacher is inspired by
mqu ‘ A
'Bigmouth Strikes Again' by Salman Rushdie
A self-referential work describing a brilliant but controversial author who publishes a novel in which Buddha is shown shagging a witch, keeping a harem of prostitutes and chatting with Satan. Shy, bald Buddhists reflect and plan to murder Rushdie. D'oh!
out the back of their shellsuits tear up and down Princes Street nicking Oscar Wilde plays to the manic sounds of Sandie Shaw's ‘Puppet On A String'. The novel climaxes with an armed robbery on Burger King, where they liberate the Whoppers.
Shop-lifters of . '7,“ » ,z” the world unite at E
ML!!! V A
'Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others by Helen Fielding
A thirtysomething career woman makes desperate attempts to slim down, cut the booze 'n' tabs and have a proper relationship by obsessively recording her weight in a diary. She finally adopts a live and let live philosophy with the epiphany that love handles are relative.
Liverpool legend Bill Shankly to quit his job and spend a lot of time down the pub watching footie. His girlfriend chucks him, but comes to realise the error of her ways and surprises him by turning up in the dole office wearing the Liverpool away strip.
FRANKLY MR SHANKLY ~
16—30Apr 1998 "£08111