Sunday Times (March 12, 2000)
by Harvey Pollock
How tiring it must be, as you approach 40, to be the voice of hipdom, to be described as a slacker when you have written seven books in nine years. Yet, as he promoted his new novel, Miss Wyoming, Douglas Coupland seemed at ease with his image.
As to where
Coupland's career now stood, no two critics seemed to agree. "The writer
who came to fame in 1992 with a ground-breaking social satire, Generation
X, has allowed his sentimental side to come out of the closet," reported
Katie Owen in The Times. Fred Bernstein, in The Independent on Sunday, described
the novel as "Coupland's own shot at renewal - at becoming a novelist more
than an aphorist", concluding that Coupland, as revealed on his own website,
was more interesting than his characters. For Toby Mundy in the New Statesman,
Miss Wyoming represented "a pubescent trekking into the foothills of middle-age,
carrying an almost embarrassing fondness for kitsch" while, in the TLS,
Paul Quinn noted that "because Coupland's metaphors, similes and comparisons
are so tightly bound up with the culture they satirise, there is sometimes
a loss of critical distance".
Yet Coupland's admirers hailed from a wide constituency. Nicholas Blincoe, in The Literary Review, found the novel "astonishing...Coupland creates concepts that allow us to get to grips with our unimaginable, real-life, end-of-the-world news". Victoria Glendinning, in The Daily Telegraph, declared that "if you find anything about the way we live now disturbing and wrong, he is your man. (He is my man)".
Coincidentally, the ghost of Coupland occasionally flitted over reviews for Toby Litt's new novel, Corpsing. Describing Litt as a "Generation X adventurer in capitalism, wry and cynical pseudo- beatnik...ratpack chronicler of the lifestyle fascism", the London Evening Standard's Adam Piette discerned in Corpsing "hysterical sarcasm rather than satirical energy". It was a minority view. In the TLS, Jonathan Fasman praised "a taut, quick thriller...Litt neither preaches nor ruminates on fame or violence; he shows, rather than tells about, the numbing destructiveness of both". The Independent on Sunday's James Hopkin noted the author's "ice-pick prose... his ability to write simple striking sentences". There was disagreement between Maxim Jakubowski in The Guardian and DJTaylor in The Independent on the direction that Litt has taken. Jakubowski welcomed the fact that "one of the foremost young lions of Brit hip-lit has a genuine appetite for pulp". Taylor conceded that Corpsing "narrowly succeeds", but noted gloomily how young male writers now wrote "with one eye on the kind people at GQ rather than any sort of aesthetic template. This kind of writing by numbers - even in such a desperate and posture-ridden genre as the British Bloke Novel - was always going to have mixed results."
Hip-Litt or Bloke-Litt? It was all a matter of perspective.