Wednesday, 19 September 2012

One Day... Generation A (I read a book and was so proud I wrote about it)

It's strangely depressing that One Day was made into an apparently mediocre feel good film: the novel's clear-eyed vision of a generation's descent from hopeful idealism to contented apathy is intellectual honest, well-observed and refreshingly accurate. Douglas Coupland's Generation A, meanwhile, is less a sequel to the novel that spawned a thousand slackers than another installment in Coupland's own degeneration from sparkling new talent to predictable, if charming, workman.

One Day may only really concentrate on the two main characters - their friends and other lovers are caricatures and symbols of various cultural phenomena - but it charts a romantic inevitability alongside a caustic look at the first generation to grow up without God. Celebrity, teaching, hedonism, promiscuity and domesticity are all found wanting and, for a story that spans the end of the Thatcher Years and the triumph of New Labour, politics is merely a background to the protagonists' moral dilemmas. 

The neat narrative trick of revisiting the couple on one day of the year, which fortunately began their relationship and ultimately ends it, allows David Nicholls to catalogue change over twenty years. Sharp swipes at the growth of lowest common denominator television, parents obsession with the mechanics of child-rearing and the slow compromises of middle-age obscure the simple message of hope that runs through even the most decadent or despairing days. 

The conclusion that romantic love is the last hope for those who have abandoned faith in everything else is not persuasive - even the heroic couple are not forever, and the reform of the priapic male protagonist barely takes. Yet One Day deconstructs a generation that has refused maturity and mistakes a philosophy of selfishness for personal growth.

Generation A revisits Coupland's obsession with story-telling. Much of the book is preoccuppied with the diverse tales from five exceptional individuals, until it collapses into a short thriller as a finale. The usual Coupland signatures - a chronological plot, the taut language, fascination with the apocalyptic and a reluctant sense of the spiritual - are all present: his ability to present each character's individual voice and hold them in a profound compassion lifts Generation A above a mundane retread of previous glories.

His weakness is in the ending: the sudden reveal of the villain is unconvincing, and undermines the sophisticated weaving of the five individual's unique stories. Fortunately,  Generation A is uplifting through the author's obvious sympathy for  all human life and his rare ability to connect huge ideas to the mundane.

No comments :

Post a Comment