Liz Dunn is one of the world’s lonely people. She’s in her late thirties and has a boring cubicle job at a communications company, doing work that is only slightly more bearable than the time she spends alone in her depressingly sterile box of a condo. Her whole life, she’s tried to get to the root of her sadness, to figure out what she’s been doing wrong, with little success. But then, one night in 1997, everything changes: while standing in the parking lot of a video store, arms full of sappy movies she’s rented to help her convalesce from oral surgery, she witnesses the passing of the Hale-Bopp comet. For Liz, this streak of light across the sky is a portent of radical change — and for her, radical change means finally accepting her lot: “I realized that my life, while technically adequate, had become all it was ever going to be … No more trying to control everything — it was now time to go with the flow.” In that moment, and for the first time, Liz feels truly free.
A day after Liz makes the decision to seek peace in her life rather than control, along comes another comet, in the form of a stranger admitted to the local hospital with her name and number inscribed on his MedicAlert bracelet. For the new Liz, the phone call from the hospital feels like “the fulfillment of a prophecy”; the young man, it turns out, is her son, whom she gave up for adoption when she was sixteen. Jeremy shows the scars of his years as a foster child and his most recent drug reaction, but is otherwise beautiful and charming. And when he moves in with Liz to recuperate, it’s as if both of them had been waiting for this moment all their lives.
A lost soul and occasional visionary, Jeremy upends Liz’s quiet existence — shocking her coworkers and family, redecorating her condo, getting her to reevaluate her past and take an active role in her future. But he’s also very ill with multiple sclerosis. Her son’s life-and-death battle induces a spiritual awakening in Liz — then triggers a chain of events that take her to the other side of the world and back, endangering her life just as an unexpected second chance at happiness finally seems within reach.
With Eleanor Rigby, Douglas Coupland has given us a powerful and entertaining portrait of a woman who could be any one of us — someone who thinks it is too late to make anything of her life, who feels defeated by the monotony of her days, yet who also holds within her the potential for monumental change and for great love. When Liz asks, “What happens when things stop being cosmic and become something you can hold in your hand in a very real sense?” she’s not just talking about stray meteors anymore. The excitement of not really knowing the answer is what life’s all about. In the end, Liz discovers that life is no longer a matter of keeping an even keel until you die, or settling for peace and quiet, but of embracing faith and hope and change.
READ AN EXCERPT
1. Eleanor Rigby opens with Liz thinking about whether a blind person who became seeing as an adult would be “frightened and confused” and ask to be blind again — then waver and decide to keep the gift of sight after all. Her brother compares it to the experience of being a newborn. Discuss the...
—Los Angeles Times
"Coupland's ear for the vernacular is solid, and his prose is lean and stripped, making for a fast read.... Coupland moves his story quickly, handling narrative flashbacks with assurance, and gives his plot several screwball twists."
—San Francisco Chronicle
"Essentially the story of how a middle-aged spinster finally comes of age, throws off her isolation, and begins living her life, it is told with abundant wit and a deceptive simplicity, courtesy of a sardonic office drone named not Eleanor Rigby (the title is borrowed from a Beatles song about loneliness) but Liz Dunn.... 'Eleanor Rigby' is earnest and warm-hearted, a pleasant landscape dotted with small deposits of profundity. Even as her struggles grow from small and solitary to almost absurdly oversize, Liz's voice remains wonderfully, wittily human."
"Part of the joy in reading a Coupland book is the wonderful and unexpected way in which the details are meted out and skillfully woven together for the finale. All the same lively with that was apparent in All Families Are Psychotic and Hey Nostradamus! is evident here, and Coupland’s talent for capturing the mundane and sparking recognition among his readers — especially Canucks — is here too."
—The Guelph Mercury, Kitchener-Waterloo Record, Brantford Expositor
"But intricate plot twists aren’t the driving force of a Coupland novel. The true force is embodied here by the most weak-bodied of the book’s characters. Jeremy, through his drug-fuelled visions, offers original ideas about the Earth and how we’re looking after it…. [Coupland’s characters] all still struggling with the big themes of life on Earth; love loneliness, death and how to make sense of the world."
—Victoria Times Colonist
"What makes him hit us again and again, as though he were pelting meteorites from on high, is his ability to connect with ordinary human emotions and to make them profound."
"Coupland has a canny take on everything, and his oneliners zing because they invoke people you know…you’ll be right there with Liz as she discovers that, with a little push, any of us can find our proper place in the solar system."
"There’s a brief moment in Douglas Coupland’s latest novel when he draws the reader’s attention to some peonies, cool and white and beautiful, placed in a room. They’re a fitting flower for a Coupland novel; his latest could rest next to the vase, equally cool and well-arranged."
—Quill & Quire
Praise for Hey Nostradamus!:
A Globe and Mail Best Book of 2003
Named one of the top five novels of 2003 by Quill & Quire
“Tempered with Coupland’s wry wit and acute observations, it adds up to an irresistible read.”
“Coupland has become a master of suspense and pacing. Hey Nostradamus! is a cannily crafted page-turner. . . . an excellent, skilfully written story.”
“A leap sideways from the acid irony which has shaded some of Coupland’s earlier novels. Instead, from the pen of one of the coolest authors on the planet has come a work of suffusing humanity.”
—Sunday Herald (UK)
“Tough, accomplished and subtle, it addresses all the big issues — God, suffering, miracles, family life, why bad things happen to good people — without ever becoming grandiose or pretentious.”