In 2010, Douglas Coupland was (and still is) one of my top five authors. He has since written a book after my review of Generation A, but I will stay true to my original post and not edit. The following post was written whilst I was working in the local library as an early 20 something, so please enjoy and perhaps read some Coupland.
Coupland’s latest novel, published in ’09, focuses on the impact of humans onto our environment and consequently, each other. In this world, bees have become extinct, (something that is most certainly closer than most think), and so a lot of what they consume contains artificial flavours. Crops are dying, and hand fertilisation is the key to harvesting a single apple. Pretty much everyone is taking a drug called “Solon”, which is basically a mood altering concoction that is highly addictive; it provides a sense of isolation. However, before you decide that this book sounds too “scientific” for you, you would be wrong. Yes, there are environmentalist themes running throughout the whole book, but they are easy to follow.
The storyline follows five people from different parts of the world who have been stung by bees, after extinction. Each chapter is a diary entry from one of the characters, and in the first third of the book it describes their isolation from the outside world whilst they are being observed by science. Pretty straightforward, and some amusing insights into different cultures. I think the best view-point was that of those looking at America, especially Harj calling all Abercrombie and Fitch males “Craig”, only fuelled by the renaming of Harj to “Apu”. (For those who have never watched television, Apu is a character (shopkeeper) in The Simpsons).
Even though the book did not have “parts”, I read it as if it was split into three. So the second of the third describes each characters release from their isolation period back into a world that has given them celebrity status. Some use this to their advantage…well, the american “dude” type does, whilst the others have discovered a new meaning to their lives, and want to explore it. Inevitably, this involves being in contact with each other, leading on to Part 3. Part 3 is full of stories that the characters make up, on the request of the scientist “Serge”.
If you have read Couplands “Generation X”, you will be able to compare the storytelling of the trio of friends with this more modern method of story writing and telling, but it’s not something that is important to do as to understand the novel, though you should get more out of the book by doing so. The storytelling does become long-winded and slightly exhausting, as nothing exciting really happens. Each story does represent many human traits – Honesty, laziness, paranoia, life and death are among the few, and most of the stories are indicative of their surroundings – a defect of human thoughts: “An original idea – That can’t be too hard. The library must be full of them” – Stephen Fry. Without the stories, the book would be pointless because they convey what being a human is all about. Though I would have liked them to have been a little more suspicious…
The scientists that studied each character still play a role in the book. They are in contact with their patients, and technically kidnap them once or twice. In the final third, the “bee5” are taken to a remote island by one of the scientists, where the last known site of the humble bee was located. Because these bees stung only the 5 characters, there must be a logical explanation to why. “Why me” syndrome kicks in, and they make a discovery. Solon production had a negative affect on bee population, causing extinction. Because the bees returned and stung people who have never taken Solon, it is vital to analyse them as to re-populate the world with bees. Or is it?
Solon is a recurrent theme, and the outcome of the novel is easily predicted. Well, it’s easy to predict why everything is happening, but not what the scientist actually wants with the bee5. It was a very strange idea that seemed a little rushed, but it worked due to the slightly quirky nature of the novel.
I thoroughly enjoyed the book and recommend it to anyone who wants to read a slightly quirky novel. Give it a go…You never know. I also recommend reading “Generation X” first, but it’s not vital to reading this one.
Rating – 4/5