The Generation Game: Douglas Coupland
This article is from 2009.
Douglas Coupland wrote his breakthrough novel in 1991 and is now delivering a sequel of sorts. Rodge Glass hears about retribalization, rumours and Rain Man
Fans and critics have known it was coming for months, with rumour and misinformation clogging up chat rooms and columns. Now that Generation A is finally set to be unleashed upon the reading public, we’ll see if the furious debate will have been justified. ‘It’s a reminder of how glacial the speed of the book world is,’ says the author, who claims he feels no pressure to match the international success of his 1991 debut Generation X. Since that book, Coupland has become a hugely successful novelist, writing 12 books crossing multiple genres, using his fiction to assess the generations who came after X, notably in his novels Shampoo Planet, Microserfs and jPod.
The world has certainly changed since 1991. So what’s the difference between the people of Generation X and Generation A? ‘Maybe it’s like I had a kid once who died, and so I named the next kid after the first one. Seriously.’ The author has discussed his books this way before. He famously wrote about the ‘death’ of Generation X in 1995, when he felt it had been over-exposed and over-commercialised. Coupland had always distanced himself from the ‘voice of Generation X’ label, and used every opportunity he could to move on from it. So this return is an interesting one.
‘The two are definitely linked, mostly by the notion that you have a group of isolates who end up in a strange place telling stories to try and reorder the world,’ admits Coupland. ‘In 20 years, we’ve undergone a massive electronic revolution that’s affected us all on deep levels. Marshall McLuhan [Canadian philosopher and media theorist] called this “retribalization”. I wanted this book to reflect these changes. I also finished a biography of McLuhan that publishes next March. The two books fed into each other a good deal.’
So, did Coupland return to his 1991 novel during the creative process? ‘Strangely, no. What I did was make an ongoing effort to recall how I felt and how I was thinking while doing that book. I think a more precise truth came from that rather than mimicking the book page-for-page, though I did read bits and pieces. What I find when I reread anything is that I remember with spooky laser precision exactly how I was feeling the day I wrote the words and exactly what was going on in my head. It’s kind of Rain Manny, and not something I ever expected.’
Douglas Coupland, 30 Aug, 8pm, £9 (£7).