26 July 2009

Retread Review: Eleanor Rigby by Douglas Coupland

[I wrote this review in 2007. Just digging up some old stuff to add to the collection here. It might be interesting to read some of these books again and see if I've got a different perspective now. Probably I won't bother though.]

I read most of Douglas Coupland's Eleanor Rigby in one go last night, laying in the bathtub and letting the water get cold around me. I think I absorbed a pound of water through skin that might never unprune itself.

I really liked this book.

Opening Paragraph:
I had always thought that a person born blind and given sight later on in life would feel reborn. Just imagine looking at our world with brand new eyes, everything fresh, covered with dew and charged with beauty—pale skin and yellow daffodils, boiled lobsters and a full moon. And yet I've read books that tell me this isn't the way newly created vision plays out in real life. Gifted with sight, previously blind patients become frightened and confused. They can't make sense of shape or colour or depth. Everything shocks, and nothing brings solace. My brother, William, says, "Well think about it, Liz—kids lie in their cribs for nearly a year watching hand puppets and colourful toys come and go. They're dumb as planks, and it takes them a long time to even twig to the notion of where they end and the world begins. Why should it be any different just because you're older and technically wiser?"

Eleanor Rigby is the story of Liz Dunn, a lonely woman who finally gets woken up from a life she's been sleepwalking through. It makes me feel pathetic to admit it, but in many ways, she reminds me of me.

She's just another lonely, shy fat girl/woman who has become cynical because it's an easier way of dealing with a world she doesn't feel a part of. (Though, hey, she'd just say, Who knows what goes on in the minds of those who do seem to fit in. Probably they're just as bad, or else too shallow to recognize how meaningless their lives are.) Liz's (possible) life change happens when her son Jeremy—given up for adoption when she was 16—suddenly appears in her life. He's an utterly engaging man who sees the world in a way that changes, for Liz anyway, everything.

There had to be somebody out there who made a radical leap—who told the others that there existed this place beyond us that was different than anything we'd known, namely the future. And because of the future, all human lives became different. Our children's lives became different, better than our. We could apply our minds to being more efficient in the way we did tasks. And it was someone like Jeremy who told people this.

Jeremy does change things for Liz—she can see the future now, and she's at least a little more capable of dealing with it, even if she is still the same lonely, shy Liz. This is the kind of book that I'd like to see as hopeful, but my particular brand of cynicism calls that kind of life change (or potential life change) bullshit. I just don't think that kind of thing really happens for anyone. I still really liked this book.

I marked off 8 or 10 pages that had interesting things I want to quote or to remember or to come back to in 5 years when I read this book again. (See if the same things strike me, I guess. I don't know, really, why I do it, but I am a compulsive page marker with books I enjoy. Thank god for bus transfers to shred.) This is one of them:
The thing about meat with me, though, is how it speaks to me about the human body. All of us are stuck inside our meaty bodies. I've always imagined that regular people are happy to be inside their bodies, whereas lonely people yearn to ditch their carcasses. I suspect lonely people wish they could forget the whole meat-and-bone issue altogether. We're the people most likely to believe in reincarnation simply because we can't believe we were shackled into our meat in the first place. Lonely people want to be dead, yet we're still not quite ready to go—we don't want to miss the action; we want to see who wins next year's Academy Awards. More to the point, the lonely, like all humans, yearn to meet that somebody who'll make us feel better about being trapped inside our species' meat-and-bone soul containment system.

Here's another. (I was going to pick the funny ones, but got sidetracked):
I suspect that all human beings have a point where they realize that what they have is the most they're ever going to have, be it love, money or power. You have to make peace with who you are, and what you've become. I'd thought that a decision to choose peace instead of predictability was a simple bookkeeping decision that would easily reconcile me with my life. That was foolish.

Right. Something I didn't like. I found the farmer metaphor ham-handed, but you'll have to read it to find out. It was an anvil of epic proportions, no subtlety involved. But it was amusing in a Coupland sort of way. Plenty of strange touches, unlikely oddities, and throwaway observations that ring true and made me go, "Oh my god! Me too!" Little things like what people write up in memes that say, "List 5 weird things about yourself." (I wish I could find the quotation on my favourite of those, but apparently I didn't mark that one.)

So yes. To sum up. Very enjoyable. A fairly light read. (I didn't mention that before. You're not meant to introduce new information in a summation, but whatever. Nobody is grading me on this.) But still something that burrowed into my brain and will probably take up (at least short-term) residence. Do try it.

Douglas Coupland is most famously the author of the novel Generation X, but he's written several others, including jPod, Hey Nostradamus! and The Gum Thief. He's also published several non-fiction books, including Souvenir of Canada (1 and 2), Terry – The Life of Canadian Terry Fox and City of Glass, which I looked at a lot in bookstores when I still lived in Vancouver but never actually bought. He has a website - Coupland.com - which has less stuff on it than I somehow imagined it might. Go check it out for the wasps nests though.

Coupland, Douglas. Eleanor Rigby. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2005.
Finished: 06 June 2007
Rated: 4.5 out of 5* pothole making meteorites
This was my 1st book in June, and my 28th in 2007.

*Psst... my ratings are numbered 1-5, meaning something like 1=sucky, 2=meh, 3=okay, 4=good, 5=great.

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