JPod cover

Book: JPod

By Douglas Coupland

I’m not a big fan of Coupland (I’ve read Microserfs, but can’t actually remember it) but my girlfriend likes his stuff, and we had this in the house but I hadn’t read it, so it joined the list of books to be read (we are in a recession, after all). JPod is about Ethan and his five co-workers in a collection of cubicles called JPod in a big game-design company in Vancouver, where they do some work but not a lot, as well as Ethan’s parents and the people who enter their lives.

I would go into more details about the plot but I don’t think it’s important because I don’t think that Coupland thinks it’s important. The story lurches from one quirky random incident to the next, not out of organic cohesion but because something kooky has to happen next in the story. Ethan’s mother grows marijuana, his dad is retired but is trying to work up to a speaking part via roles as an extra, his brother is a realtor who works with a Chinese businessman who smuggles people (among many other things), the head of JPod’s team ends up being deliberately hooked on heroin and sent to a Chinese factory to work. Douglas Coupland is a character in the book, meeting Ethan and acquiring his laptop, which he uses as the basis for this book, after he has been referenced by the characters several times, and he ends up stealing the rest of Ethan’s co-workers for his new venture. It all seems so random for the sake of being random – it gets quite tiresome after a while.

The one thing I will give Coupland is his ability to write interesting and funny dialogue – it sounds fresh and real, and I found the book enjoyable when it was just the characters (particularly the JPod people) chatting about life and things they find on the internet. However, these sections are rare because, apart from the deliberately quirky incidents that pepper the story, the book is constantly interrupted by digressions. Pages with a few words in large type, stream of consciousness nonsense in smaller type, a couple of pages of the dollar symbol, a page of the phrase ‘ramen noodles’ repeated throughout, pages with a single Chinese character and its translation, notes on passwords, a page with the words ‘Intentionally blank’ on it and nothing else. There are sections that are part of the story – the JPod workers’ joke ebay listings, the English assignments of one of the workers, the joke letters to Ronald MacDonald, all the three-letter words accepted by Scrabble. The worst are the two sections that are the list of prime numbers that have been written by one of the JPod characters for the purpose of a contest: two 30-page sections that are just lists of numbers. It’s at this stage you think that Coupland is just taking the piss, having fun with his readers as he plays with the notion of what a book can be.

I don’t know if this is a Coupland version of a Tristram Shandy-style novel, albeit in his own world, or if he doesn’t care about what he writes, or if I’m just missing the joke. Apart from some humour in some of the dialogue, I found this a highly frustrating read; it almost made me glad that about there was a third-less story because of all the superfluous nonsense, such as pi to 100,000 digits – at least the book was over quicker. I don’t think I’ll be reading Coupland any more …

1 Comment

  • Anonymous 29 December 2010 at 8:41 am

    Hi, I'm from Spanish and I hope finish this book reading today. I'm agree with you. It's really bad. There are several funny parts, but only in several jPod dialogs. For me it's a nonsense book.

    Reply

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