Book review: Hey Nostradamus! by Douglas Coupland

6 Sep

2003, 244 pages (hardcover)

So who out there hasn’t read Douglas Coupland? Until last week, I hadn’t. Hey Nostradamus! is the ninth novel by the Canadian author and visual artist, with several more released since then, but it is the first work of his that I have read.

The novel manages to explore dark themes while being a page-turner, and proved to be a wonderful introduction to his work.

The beginning of the novel is captivating: in a high school in Vancouver in 1988, three students go on a shooting rampage, killing many of their peers. Seventeen-year-old student Cheryl, recently married and, even more recently, pregnant, is the final victim of the shootings. Her student husband Jason arrives in time to see her die.

A strength of the book for me is that the story is told in four sections by four different characters: firstly Cheryl, whose engaging voice and sweet musings on the world provide the background for the initial tragedy. The second part of the story has us meeting up with her husband, Jason, eleven years after the massacre where he leads a sad, unconventional existence. Dealing with both the death of his young wife as well as his tough upbringing under the rule of his religious tyrant father, Jason is struggling to keep his head above water. He conveys his story to us through a letter written to his twin nephews, and as we follow his life we are certainly taken down a few roads we weren’t expecting. In part three we are introduced to Heather, who begins dating Jason twelve years after the massacre. Heather is an endearing character going slowly crazy trying to piece together the puzzle that is Jason. The final, short, section of the book is told by Jason’s father, Reg. He attempts to explain, too late, his religious fanaticism and what was behind the way he treated those close to him.  Through each character’s telling of the story we learn more about the other characters too.

Hey Nostradamus! explores in detail the idea of faith, where it can take you and what happens when it unravels. It also explores loneliness, what it’s like to try to be part of life but not quite able to exist in the world as everyone else does. Possibly there are lucky people who can’t relate to this, but I can. Heather’s character particularly reminded me of certain stages of my own life. The characters all rang true for me, and I had tears in my eyes more than once.

I found this book to be well written and an absolute page-turner – the kind of book you can’t wait to get home to read. Judging by this novel, Coupland’s mind works in ways different to most and I look forward to reading more of what he has come up with.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5

Highly recommended

Borrowed from the library, read for the Canadian Book Challenge.

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4 Responses to “Book review: Hey Nostradamus! by Douglas Coupland”

  1. steph September 6, 2010 at 5:06 pm #

    I have read this book and a few of his others, e.g., All Families are Psychotic and The Gum Thief. I’ve got Gen A on my list to buy and I recently received a review copy of his latest coming in October, Player One. I enjoy Coupland and his interesting mind!

    I read this one years ago and remember finding it somewhat depressing but still loving it and being jealous of his writing. He’s so real, you know? The books may be a bit sad but he’s captured ordinary, struggling life with such powerful and accurate observation one can’t help but be drawn to it.

    • PrairieJournals September 6, 2010 at 7:01 pm #

      It was a pretty sad story but I have to admit I kind of like that kind of thing. I’m always interested in what characters do when they feel socially isolated. I am keen to read his others… I was working in the bookshop when JPod was released and I remember the hype but just didn’t get around to reading it. Is there one that you’d recommend as my next Coupland read?

  2. Stefanie September 7, 2010 at 8:29 am #

    I’ve not read Coupland. Always meant to, especially Gen X but I always get distracted by so many other books. One of these days!

  3. steph September 13, 2010 at 6:51 pm #

    The Gum Thief or All Families are Psychotic.

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