Book Review: Hey Nostradamus!

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I never could see how anything good could come from the Delbook Massacre. Whenever I’ve heard people saying, ‘Look how it’s brought us all together,’ I’ve had to leave the room or switch the channel. What a feeble and pathetic moral. Just look at our world, so migratory – cars and airplanes and jobs here and there: what does it matter if a few of us who happened to be in this one spot at one moment briefly rallied together and held hands and wore ribbons? Next year half of us will have moved away, and then where’s your moral?

Hey Nostradamus!, by Douglas Coupland

When we talk about a novel being timeless, it’s usually in reference to a classic, like, say Romeo and Juliet – theoretically we can all sympathize with the tragic love story and being at odds with one’s family (if not with the title characters’ stupidity). When I read Hey Nostradamus!, however, I felt like the novel could have been written today. Of course, it is a fairly recent work (2003), but considering all the advancements and changes that have taken place in the past thirteen years, the novel is almost shockingly relevant.

The plot centers around a school shooting in North Vancouver, and the effects it has on the survivors and their families. The fact that school shootings are still as sorely relevant as they were in 2003, after the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, made me think back on the year so far: with such horrific events occurring all too often, it is now as good a time to read Hey Nostradamus! as any.

Hey Nostradamus! reminds us to focus on the victims and survivors of such attacks, their humanity, and their lives years after the event. The depiction of Jason’s life decades after the attack was realistic and prodded me to think more deeply about similar attacks that have happened in my lifetime. The novel, however, wasn’t too didactic – it still presented an interesting narrative, or rather, a set of connected narratives. The novel is told through the voices of Cheryl, who is killed in the attack; Jason, Cheryl’s boyfriend; Heather, Jason’s girlfriend; and Reg, Jason’s estranged father. Although the stories themselves take place years apart and therefore do not provide much overlap in plot, the characters are engaging, sympathetic narrators.

Another key thing that I enjoyed about Hey Nostradamus! was that it is set in Vancouver, a city that I (and of course, author Douglas Coupland) am happy to call home. In fact, the first time I encountered Coupland was at my brother’s university graduation, where I believe he was the recipient of an honorary degree. I can’t believe it’s taken me more than six years to finally pick up one of his books. After a lifetime of reading books set in supposedly more exciting locales like New York and London, I was happy to find references to familiar names like Lonsdale Quay, Agassiz, and Bootlegger. The fact that the story took place in my city only made the novel more poignant for me.

YES OR NO?: YESHey Nostradamus! is a relatively short read on a very heavy topic. Despite its length, it is definitely not a light read. The prose is simple to understand, and like any worthwhile book, the ideas linger in your head long after you’re done. Highly recommended.

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