Tuesday, 8 October 2013

none so blind

I was introduced to the writing of Douglas Coupland at exactly the right time .

I was midway through my degree and I'd realised I was going to come out more-or-less unemployable, I was living in a house with people who were developing some serious Class A drug habits, and I was winging my way towards a mid-20s breakdown. Because of that, I was ripe for the picking when I first read Generation X.

It's been a while since I've bought one of his books on faith - the law of diminishing returns seemed to set in - but I've got fond memories of Microserfs, Life After God and Girlfriend In A Coma in particular.

The other weekend I read a review of his new book (which got a pretty thorough kicking). It made me go back to another of his old books, Eleanor Rigby.

I read it shortly after it was published and I can't remember thinking much of it at the time. But I did remember the basic plot of a lonely 42-year-old woman who gets a phone call from the hospital, asking her to come and visit a young man who has her listed as his 'contact-in-case-of-emergency', and who turns out to be the son she gave up for adoption twenty-odd years previously. 

Oh, and he's got Primary Progressive MS

Re-reading it this last week, I enjoyed the book but the problem with his books is that they tend towards the self-parodic - the characters talk and think like the characters in a Douglas Coupland book, full of hip and zeitgeist-y pop-culture references. And they're prone to wallowing in an endless quest for greater meaning and/or spirituality in Godless times.

My main issue was that the character with MS - Jeremy - was obviously slated for tragic death, but this was offset by his charm and wit. Plus he had the benefit of having VISIONS, and the skill of singing songs backwards perfectly, because he's special.

So anyway on one level, the portrayal of MS is good because Jeremy is so comfortable with his condition, which is always labelled as Primary Progressive MS. But on the whole, I don't know why Coupland chose to make Jeremy a PwMS - what's HIS relationship to it?
I'm (naturally?) a bit uncomfortable with MS being used as a plot-device (think about it, it will always end tragically in any kind of fiction).
My favourite bit was this joke, which Jeremy tells to a guy who has just given him a job selling mattresses - at which Jeremy is obviously a NATURAL (see: special):
Jeremy asked, "How many people with MS does it take to put in a lightbulb?"
Ken did not know how many.
"Five million - one person to do it, and four million nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine to write depressing online web-logs."
The terminology is nicely dated (who says 'web-logs' anymore? Ah, the early noughties!) but I think it still applies... *ahem*.

Now interestingly (or not), the book came out in 2004 - which was the year after I'd had what I now see was an attack of MS symptoms, and the attack which set me on the road to my diagnosis. Seeing as I had pretty much all of these symptoms (listed in the book) at some point the previous year, why did I not make the link?

It's strange looking back that I didn't even make a SUBLIMINAL link to the symptoms that were bothering me - I'd had varying levels of numbness for at least 2-3 years by this point.

It's either me being a bit thick, or being so far in denial that I had no idea what was going on in my brain.
Searching for an image for this post, I came across the beggaring-belief Eleanor Rigby Hotel - the website doesn't say how many single beds there are here.

Really, who would want to stay in a hotel associated with "All the Lonely People"? Even with "crisp white linen and mellow soft furnishings"?


Ms. CrankyPants said...

Oh, God, this post has brought a ghastly memory to mind: when I first heard Eleanor Rigby (on my parents' record player when I was around 11), I WROTE A LETTER to Paul McCartney saying how I was one of "the lonely people" and how it'd make me feel better to meet him. Not knowing how to get this amazing letter to Paul, I cleverly hid it under a book in my room where my older sister promptly FOUND it and proceeded to mock me mercilessly. Good times.

Ms. CrankyPants said...

Ah, yes, and in looking at the Drew Barrymore picture I've chosen as my avatar (?), that's just about how I looked at the time. Can't FATHOM why I was lonely...[gah]

stevedomino said...

Thank you, thank you!

These are WITHOUT DOUBT the best comments I have EVER received on this blog.

I feel like I need to give something back. I will try to find my old diaries and post some choice nuggets of the young Steve awkwardly mooning after girls but NEVER speaking to them.

It's the least I can do, as one younger sibling to another.

Thank you again!

Ms. CrankyPants said...

I think hearing about similar humilations would help me heal.

And you're welcome.

swisslet said...

I wrote to Jimmy Savile asking if I could meet Nik Kershaw. It's probably best for all concerned that this never happened, eh?