Just finished two books — one oldish and one newish. First up was Jonathan Coe’s ‘What a Carve Up!’ and second was Douglas Coupland’s ‘Hey Nostradamus!’. Don’t know why I picked two books with exclamation marks in their titles, but anyway. Have to say I loved them both and I’d give them four out of five if we have to live our cultural lives by Amazon ratings as seems to be the case these days.
‘What a Carve Up!’ is stunningly crafted in terms of its structure — I can just imagine the big piece of paper on Coe’s wall charting how each of the characters is to meet and who should do what to whom. Most of them end up taking part in the final scene which really does read like a Carry On era movie that Quentin Tarantino has got his hands on. The whole book is wonderfully evocative of the 1980s although I’m not so sure that some of his characters were confined to that era — I seem to bump into a few of them occasionally now.
Hey Nostradamus! is one of Coupland’s best. It’s not laugh out loud funny in the way that Microserfs was or quite as close to the superficial psyche of a generation as Generation X. Instead it’s more extreme in its subject matter (starting with a Columbine like shooting in a high school) and probably goes deeper into the human condition than he’s ever delved before. You get the feeling that now Coupland has written quite a few books he’s zeroing in on one great one. As he ages, he’s certainly gaining in stature. You can’t really call him pop fiction any more.
I noticed quite a lot of similarities between Coe and Coupland, although there are, of course, differences: Coe’s better at speech, Coupland better at metaphor and sparkling description; Coe’s plot is more intricate, Coupland’s more layered. But both are on the verge of feeling ‘literary’ while remaining eminently readable and, if you get a chance, I’d certainly read both of these.