Home > Literature, Reviews > Review of Girlfriend in a Coma by Douglas Coupland

Review of Girlfriend in a Coma by Douglas Coupland

Douglas Coupland was recommended to me by someone in my reading group – recommended to all of us, in fact, in a kind of mini-presentation that we sometimes do. Dutifully, several weeks later, I bought Girlfriend in a Coma from the bookshop in Camden Market. Several weeks after that I dutifully read it.

The first hints that something is wrong with this book are in the opening chapter, which is from the point of view of someone who's dead and who introduces the following narrative. Then, however, part one turns out to be rather good. Again in the first person (although a different first person from the first chapter), it tells of Richard and Karen having sex for the first time, together. Then Karen falls into a coma. Nine months later their daughter is born (of the still-comatose mother). Richard grows up being miserable. The story is pretty bland at this point, it's just the story of Richard's life. But it's very well-told, with some beautiful descriptions and some moving passages.

Then Richard suddenly, and for no particular reason, realises Karen's woken up. The second section of the novel isn't as good. In order to encompass mulitple points of view, it switches to a third person narrative, and the casual tone, the laid-back angst that was so effective in the previous part just doesn't work here. The change to the present tense emphasises a sense of distance. The opening of this middle section has a decent story, and, despite all its problems, is, perhaps, the most moving part of the book. But by the end of that central third it's getting quite dull.

In the third section we skip back to the deceased narrator of the first chapter. And this is where it gets really bad. It's portentous and preachy and just incredibly tedious. The basic observation of this novel that modern life is crap and nobody has any time, or even a good reason, to really live anymore, while a sweeping generalisation and somewhat crass, is apt and one that certainly resonates with me. But Coupland has both underused this and gone way over the top in using it. Girlfriend seems to have been intended as a modern fairy tale but comes across as a pathetic rant. And deus ex machina endings are just so Middle Ages.

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