Main image
11th August
written by Steph

I know that I am not the only one out there who has been blown away during a first encounter with an author, vowing to read everything he or she has written, only to then find that nothing else they have written measures up to that first book. And I'm not just saying that the other books that you've read have been good but just not quite up to par with that first dalliance, but rather books that are so not your speed that if they were your first impression of the author, you'd never read him again. For me, that’s been my experience with Douglas Coupland. He was an author I had written off without ever trying, only to finally read Generation A, which I then fell madly in love with. I followed that up with Microserfs last year, which I found really painful and did not really enjoy at all, and now we have Player One. Which I also did not enjoy, but this time it was to the extent that I actually could not even finish it. I frequently pick up books and read a bit of them only to put them down because I’m not in the mood and they’re not gelling at the moment. I don’t really consider these books to be abandoned because I don’t really consider myself to have started them, but I have to say that it’s exceedingly rare these days for me to pick up a book, read a good chunk of it and then set it aside because I just don’t want to finish reading it. But I found Player One so unengaging and lackluster that despite reading about 80 pages of it, when I threw it into my “purge pile” I heaved a huge sigh of relief. I don’t know what went wrong with this book for me, but I really could not get into it. And it’s not that it wasn’t smart, because it very much was, but even though the first few parts were intriguing and vibrant, I ultimately felt like the book went off the rails and felt unfocussed and meandering. There really didn’t seem to be any plot, which isn’t necessarily always a problem, but in this case the rather flimsy plot that was presented was clearly just meant to mask the philosophizing that Coupland was doing, not because the story itself or its characters were actually important in any way. I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised by this because apparently Player One is just the printed version of a talk Coupland gave as part of the Massey Lecture series, and it really does feel like a lecture instead of a novel. Maybe it would be more successful to sit there and listen to Player One, but I personally felt like reading it myself was a waste of time. Player One uses a formula that Coupland is rather fond of, that being interleaved narratives where each chapter switches perspective from one character to the next. Through the eyes of five different people, we witness what looks to be the end of the world as these strangers hide out in a decrepit airport hotel cocktail bar. Together they muse on the crumbling of society, the role of technology, the prospect of the soul and various other existential issues. You know, standard Coupland fare. And normally I like this kind of stuff, and I do think Coupland is really well-informed, but I also think he’s a good enough writer that he can do more than offer up something in the guise of a novel that obviously isn’t about the story. In this case, his making everything “fictional” didn't really add anything except make a few of the ideas marginally more accessible, but since the entire thing didn’t have any forward momentum and I just found it all really annoying, I didn’t want to be reading it. So I stopped and I haven't looked back. Also, thank goodness this was a galley copy because I would have been really pissed off if I had paid money for this. Such a shame because I think that when Coupland is on his game, he’s really good, but right now I’m putting him on probation, because at this point I’ve had more failures with him than successes. I only have one more book of his on my shelves, All Families are Psychotic, which definitely seems to be more conventional in terms of its approach to storytelling, so hopefully it will click with me. But if not, I’m using the old baseball rule of three strikes and you’re out. Tell me, do you have any authors who you started off really liking, only to find that they might have been one-hit wonders? Rating: 1.5 out of 5


  1. I read to the end of this one, but only because it was short and easy to read – not because it was interesting or exciting.

    I was a massive fan of Generation A, but Player One was a big disappointment. The only thing I liked was the Aspergers character thrown in without making a big deal of it.

    But apart from that I agree this wasn’t a very good book. I didn’t realise it was a lecture. I think it would make a weird lecture too.

    I’m not writing Coupland off yet though – I have heard that many of his earlier books are fantastic (I haven’t heard anything about All Families are Psychotic) I’ll be reading Generation X or Jpod next.

  2. 08/12/2011

    I have never tried Coupland and form what I have just read about this book, I can’t say that I would want to read this. Sometimes it’s ok to just pontificate wildly, but when I am expecting a story with all the natural elements, it would make me extremely bored and perhaps a bit annoyed. I can’t say that I have had this experience with any other authors because my reading seems to be scattered all over the place, and it usually takes me awhile to wind my way back for an encore of an author I have enjoyed. I can totally see why Coupland is on probation with you though, and will be interested to see how you feel about All Families are Psychotic.

  3. Hmm, I haven’t read Coupland but I have to say, what I’ve read OF Coupland has not exactly inspired me to explore. :O/

  4. 08/14/2011

    Thankfully that never happened to me.

  5. I had Generation A checked out from the library, but didn’t get a chance to read it. I’ll have to get it again since you recommend it.

  6. 08/16/2011

    Hmm…I never really had a 1-hit wonder kind of experience. Maybe because I tend to give breaks between one book by an author and his/her next.

    I find I can get a little bored with an author’s style if I read 2-3 books in quick succession. This works OK if it is a series or genre fiction, but not so much in more literary type of books.

    That said, your review of this book is enough to put me off any Douglas Copeland for life. This book sounds really boring!

  7. 08/17/2011

    @ Jackie: I know you too really enjoyed Generation A, so in some way it is comforting to know that I wasn’t the only one disappointed by this book!
    A friend of mine told me that she hated JPod, but then again, she is the one who recommended Microserfs to me, which I hated, so I might not do well by following her suggestions. I forgot that I also have Generation X on the shelf which I do think I will like, so maybe I should read that next to restore my faith in Coupland.
    @ zibilee: I am all for experimental novels, but of course, such experiments are not always successful, and I don’t think this one was. I too tend to space out authors, but certain ones I try to revisit every year or so… I kind of think that no matter how long I waited, the last two Coupland novels I read would have been disastrous for me!
    @ Pam: I will say that Generation A is one of the best novels I’ve ever read and is the novel that made me think that I should read more Coupland. If you’re interested in possibly being inspired to read him, here is the review I wrote:
    @ carolinareads: You are a lucky girl then! Coupland is the most recent author I can think of who has been disappointing me, but I’m sure this has happened before!
    @ Kim: Oh, you must read Generation A at some point! Sooooo good! I think you’ll love it!
    @ Nishita: I too tend to get bored by authors if I read too many of their works in quick succession; even in the case of series I like to space the books out, but that is probably because of my weird book hoarding behaviors!
    @ Alex: Yes, I should definitely try Gen X next! And I’m actually thankful that the other Ishiguro I read was nothing like Never Let Me Go, but that’s just because I really didn’t like that book at all! 😉

  8. 08/16/2011

    Generation X might be better for you, just because it’s the closest to Generation A.

    I vowed to read all other Ishiguros, but nothing came close to Never Let Me Go. The same thing with Ian McEwan and Atonement. It’s a sad business, isn’t it?

  9. 08/18/2011

    Interesting review, Steph! Sorry to know that you didn’t like this Douglas Coupland book. 1.5 out of 5 – that is the lowest rating I have seen you give a book. Hope you enjoy the next one better. I loved your comment – “But if not, I’m using the old baseball rule of three strikes and you’re out.” 🙂

  10. 08/18/2011

    I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy this one.

  11. 08/20/2011

    I’ve only read Microserfs by him, and was really underwhelmed by it. Sorry to hear that this one was a miss for you as well. Maybe I’ll give Generation A a try, though!

  12. 08/23/2011

    @ Vishy: This review wasn’t nearly as scathing as many of my other 1.5 reviews! Thankfully (for me) they don’t happen very often!
    @ carolinareads: You and me both!
    @ Andrew Blackman: I found Microserfs painfully dull when I read it last year, so I understand your reaction to that one perfectly. I did however LOVE Generation A, so if you do feel like giving Coupland another try, that’s the one I suggest (and did so to a friend who had a similar “meh” reaction to Microserfs but who enjoy Gen A much more).

  13. 08/23/2011

    “Player One uses a formula that Coupland is rather fond of, that being interleaved narratives where each chapter switches perspective from one character to the next.”

    I’m fine with this literary tactic, but it can go very wrong if not done well. Coupland remains an author that for whom I have my guard up. Your scathing review doesn’t make me want to read him any time soon.

Leave a Reply