On the Critical List


From Sunday Times (August 14, 1994)

by Harvey Porlock

Douglas Coupland's novels reflect the cool, ironic, flip, self-referential world of Generation X, also known as the blank generation, or slackers, so it was only right that many reviews for Coupland's third novel, Life After God, were ironic, flip or, simply, slack. One critic indeed set a new standard for self- reference by reviewing the book twice, then taking himself to task in the second review for something he had written in the first.

"GQ's reviewer me, in fact struggling to find something intelligent to say about Life After God, awkwardly tried the word 'Zeitgeisty'. Whatever that means," wrote Nicholas Lezard in the Modern Review. In his subsequent, second attempt to say something intelligent about the novel, Lezard traced Coupland's "little cool moments" back to James Joyce. "Few writers using the same language could be as stylistically different as Joyce and Coupland, but Joyce, famously, lived his life after, or without God, which I think rather neatly brings us on to Coupland's book, which promises to be all about the same thing." Lezard concluded that "what Life After God does bespeak...is that burgeoning sense of responsibility, the possibility that Coupland (and us, he speaks for us) is beginning to grow up."

Tom Shone, writing in these pages, was clearly less impressed by this new maturity. With Life After God, "Coupland's loafers have got hung up on God, Nature and Eternity," Shone reported. In the end, it was a "book that melts instantly in the mind. Coupland isn't really interested in talking about his generation, merely in giving good soundbite".

In fact, only the blankest of the blank generation will have found encouragement from reviews for Life After God. In The Independent on Sunday, Zoe Heller compared the book to "the stoned conversations of sixth formers", while the Observer's James Saynor commented that "most of the brief stanzas feel as if they have been force-written in the half-hour immediately following a deep afternoon sleep". In the Big Issue, Angela Pertusini gamely summarised some of the book's contents. "Cathy cohabits with Pup-Tent, a man who beats her up and sleeps with other women. Donny, the guy down the hall, finds an almost spiritual dimension when stabbed and yearns to be shot." Alarmingly, the stories were described as covering "the familiar ground of disenchanted, twentysomething under-achievers"