Hey Nostradamus! by Douglas Coupland

Hey Nostradamus is a truly striking book. Written in 4 voices over 15 years – Cheryl, a student killed in a highschool massacre, Jason, her sweetheart – irreperably damaged by events, Hazel, the girl who tries to love Jason years later, and Reg, Jason’s zealot father. Cheryl’s section of the book is calmy horrifying as she describes the events that lead up to and follow her death hiding under a table in the cafeteria. Jason’s struggle with his reaction to the events and the effect that they had on his life is ultimately darker and less naive, leading us further into the psychology of trauma. The book turns as we meet Hazel, where we see the possibility of redemption and recovery and then finally Reg’s story, where we’re presented with the final uplifting sweep of the book.

Coupland has tried to write this book a number of times before – Life After God in 1993 was his first proper treatment of his soon to become recurring themes of family, religion, love and redemption. Girlfriend in a Coma in 1997 hit the spot again bringing a more whimsical and almost magical realist take on the same themes. Miss Wyoming didn�t sell as well as other novels but is another master work in the same vein. But it is Hey Nostradamus that it is going to really stick as the culmination of his efforts.

Over his career he has consistently shown his class simply through the fact that hardcore fans often recommend his most recent book as his best. Through the continuing development of similar ideas, through his desire to keep approaching the nut of the problem from ever differing angles his ideas have achieved greater clarity, meaning that each novel brings up something new for the reader.

It is clear that the subject of the Columbine shootings has dramatically affected Coupland. On his web site there is an image with soundtrack of Tropical Birds, an installation he has done about that very subject. It shows a destroyed school cafeteria, while the eerie soundtrack is made up of the ringing of a hundred unanswered mobile phones and pagers. This is an image that every modern disaster brings � the Paddington rail crash brought something very similar; I remember being horrified by the shots on the News at 10 of the empty carriage full of ringing mobile phones. That simple question � �are you alright� � going unanswered� The knowledge that we, the voyeurs, the media consumers, know the answer. Disturbing, shocking and thoroughly modern.

Having such a powerful subject around which to wrap his latest work has given it a greater depth than many of his other works. In this book his key themes are beautifully and tightly interwoven around a rock solid emotional backbone. The seemingly whimsical narrative style that he has employed so many times before has real hidden depth this time around, with subtly masked and menacing creatures swimming just under the surface of the sometimes almost saccharine prose.

If you�ve read Coupland before you know that all he�s ever wanted to do was ask the big questions. This book is no different, but this time he�s got the closest ever to answering them. This is an amazing journey through life, death, love and redemption. Read It.