Autumn in Coupland

Press Association, September 28 2004

Eleanor Rigby, by Douglas Coupland. Fourth Estate, £15.99, 256 pages hardback. Available now

"An original voice" comes in handy if you want to write a good novel, but it isn't enough. You also need somebody to speak in it. For Douglas Coupland, this can be limiting: he writes some of the sharpest, most distinctive dialogue around; his way with an aphorism is almost as recognisable; but they both seem tuned for a narrower, more satirical range than he's interested in covering.

Liz Dunn, the Eleanor Rigby of Eleanor Rigby, is an ingenious and largely successful route out. She could be an older version of Coupland's early-90s drifters, but the directionlessness and desperation are turned up to screaming intensity. Liz lives alone in a blank flat, working for a blank firm with "Communications" in its name. She might have been kissed once - during a school trip to Rome in the 70s, on a night she was too drunk to remember - but otherwise hers is a blank life. The two key words are "lonely" and "fat". Oh, and she's writing all this, and she knows what you're thinking, but it isn't self-pity. It's bitterness.

Into this sealed world comes a son, conceived on that forgotten night and recovering from a gruesome series of rural Canadian foster families. Jeremy is handsome, funny and charming. He can cook, and sing backwards. He sees visions. And he's dying.

Douglas Coupland's novels tend to slide into the grandiose. This one follows the pattern. But with two such fragile-minded, spiky characters, he has licence for his fantastic plot twists and his longing for depth. He can take his style - and his readers - with him. Eleanor Rigby is moving, witty and quotable, sometimes profoundly silly and sometimes just profound. It deserves to win friends.