Aug 4, 2008

Hey Nostradamus! by Douglas Coupland (and a Giveaway)

This novel is divided into four sections, each with a different narrator. The first is Cheryl Anway, aged seventeen, who in 1988 is killed in a school shooting in Vancouver. The second narrator is Jason, her highschool sweetheart, who eleven years later is still thought of by most as "the boy who never got over it". The third narrator is Heather, who meets and falls in love with Jason. And finally we have Reg, Jason’s severe and estranged father.

I know of quite a few novels about school shootings, but Hey Nostradamus! is the first one I’ve actually read. I imagine that this is a difficult topic to tackle, but this is Douglas Coupland, after all. I had faith that he would be able to handle it well, and I wasn’t disappointed. I like how Hey Nostradamus! doesn’t feign an understanding of this kind of tragedy that probably nobody nowhere actually has. Instead, it just tells the stories of four people whose lives are directly or indirectly affected, if not defined, by what happens.

And actually, I’d hesitate to call this a novel about a school shooting. It starts there, but then it becomes a book about four intertwined lives. A book about four very different people who maybe are not all that different after all. I particularly liked how Coupland ended the book with Reg’s narration. Jason portrays him as almost inhuman, and, as we find out, he has good reasons for his resentment. But then we get to hear Reg's side of the story, which makes the book so much more human and touching.

But my favourite of all was Heather’s narration. Her piece of the story was for me the one that best captured the grief, doubt and loneliness that permeate the whole book. Nobody writes about loneliness quite like Douglas Coupland does. I’m probably making this sound like an extremely bleak book, but the interesting thing is that it manages not to be one. It’s a book about loss and grief and faith and pain and family and death and life, and in a strange way I can’t quite put into words I found it a hopeful book.

While not quite up there with my favourite Coupland novels, I definitely think that Hey Nostradamus! is very much worth reading.

Here’s a passage I really like:
As I’m never going to be old, I’m glad I never lost my sense of wonder about the world, although I have a hunch it would have happened pretty soon. I loved the world, its beauty and bigness as well as its smallness: the first thirty seconds of the Beatles’ “Lovely Rita”; pigeons sitting a fist apart on the light posts entering Stanley Park; huckleberries both bright orange and dusty blue the first week of June; powdered snow down to the middle gondola tower of Grouse Mountain by the third week of every October; grilled-cheese sandwiches and the sound of lovesick crows on the electrical lines each May. The world is a glorious place, and filled with so many unexpected moments that I'd get lumps in my throat, as though I were watching a bride walk down the aisle - moments as eternal and full of love as the lifting of veils, the saying of vows and the moment of the first wedded kiss.
This is actually an example of something I think Douglas Coupland is brilliant at. This is Cheryl speaking, and she says this in the middle of telling a story whose ending we know from the onset will not be a happy one. He has these moments of beauty, of tenderness, of appreciation for life in the middle of tragedy, isolation and bleakness, and because of what surrounds them emotionally, they stand out so much more. And he never overdoes it. It never sounds forced or insincere. It always feels exactly right.

Other Blog Reviews:
Stray Talk
The Written World
Stuff as Dreams are Made On
Ace and Hoser Blook

(Have you reviewed it as well? Let me know and I'll add your link to this list.)

Now something that I know will interest many of you: There's a Neil Gaiman prize pack up for grabs at Fashionista Piranha, and it includes an ARC of The Graveyard Book as well as some other cool prizes. To be entered, just leave a comment here before the 20th of August. Read the post for details on how to get extra entries.


  1. Oh wow...I want this book! I so love that passage you quoted! I'm always so grateful when I have moments like those, though they don't come as often as they should.

  2. This sounds amazing! I've never read anything by Coupland, so I guess it's about time anyway...

  3. I also enjoyed this book. I think it dealt with the subject well. If you're interested in reading another book that deals with the subject you should read We Need to Talk About Kevin. I really thought this was an amazing book and did more justice to the subject of school shootings that Coupland and I love almost everything Coupland.

  4. Sounds interesting and I really like the title. Am looking forward to reading my first Coupland book soon.

  5. That is a lovely passage you posted. Another must add to my list! Thanks for the great review.

  6. That is a great passage, Nymeth. You've got me convinced I need to add this book to my wish list. I haven't read anything by Coupland.

  7. I read this book a couple years ago:
    It is one of my favourites by him...

  8. I've not read anything by this author either, but I love the passage. It's so beautiful! I'll have to check this out.

  9. I'm not familiar with Doug Coupland but I *love* books that have different narrators and points of view. Thanks for the review, Nymeth!

  10. I'm with Debi, I want this book! I really want to read some Coupland...I've heard you mention him a few times and I need to check him out!

  11. Would love to read this book!!!
    Please enter me!

  12. hi, did you read this because of the author? do you think you would read more/other books about such a sad topic (since you mentioned...) this looks interesting and I love your thoughtful reviews.

  13. When you first began to describe Hey Nostradamus! it vaguely reminded me of Girlfriend in a Coma. Definitely sounds like an interesting book and I'm curious to read how Coupland deals with the premise.

  14. Debi: Me too. I think you'd enjoy this one.

    Joanna: He's one of my favourite authors. I hope you enjoy his work :)

    Thatsthebook: Thanks for the recommendation. I've heard good things about that one before, and I want to pick it up sometime. I think that in Hey Nostradamus! the school shooting is just a departure point, so the book ends up not dealing with the subject very thoroughly.

    Rhinoa: I can't wait to see what you think of it.

    Iliana and Wendy: I'm glad you both liked the passage! Douglas Coupland is one of my favourites, so it makes me very happy to see others becoming interested in him.

    Kailana: Thanks for the link. I agree with what you said in your review about his writing. It can be risqué, but I love it.

    Melody, I hope you enjoy it!

    Trish: I like books like that too. I think that if used well that kind of narration can really enrich the story.

    Chris: Indeed you do :P I think this one would work well as an introduction to his work.

    cpullum: Unfortunately I'm not the one having a giveaway at this time. But maybe for the next Buy a Friend a Book week.

    Care: I picked this one up because of the author, yes. It certainly is a sad topic, and I wouldn't pick up a book just because it was about a school shooting, but I also wouldn't avoid one for that reason. Shriver's We Need to Talk About Kevin, for example, has been recommended to me a few times and I do plan on reading it. And thank you, I'm glad you like them :)

    bookchronicle: Girlfriend in a Coma is one I haven't read yet. I hope you enjoy this one.

  15. Sounds like a book worth reading. It's truly amazing how books are able to capture tragedies. I'm glad you enjoyed this one.

    I never read any of Coupland's books before, so maybe this is a good one to start with?

  16. Orchidus: My favourites are Life After God and Eleanor Rigby, but I think this one would be a good one to start with too. Any one would, really...I've yet to find a book of his I didn't like.

  17. This book sounds wonderful!! I've read a couple books about school shootings, and they were incredibly difficult to read. But very good. I've yet to read a Coupland, so this sounds like a great place to start!

  18. This book sounds wonderful!! I've read a couple books about school shootings, and they were incredibly difficult to read. But very good. I've yet to read a Coupland, so this sounds like a great place to start!

  19. I'm quite fascinated by school shootings and have read a few of them myself. I've also read this book and I agree that it's a very good book. I'm glad you enjoyed it. It's hard to remember a lot of's been a couple years or so since I've read it, but I do remember that I very much enjoyed it.

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