"Eleanor Rigby" by Douglas CouplandDouglas Coupland is probably best known for coining the period-defining moniker "Generation X". It was merely on that basis that I reached out and picked up his 2004 book "Eleanor Rigby" off the library shelf.
"Eleanor Rigby" is narrated by Liz Dunn, someone whose life measures upto the song. Through Liz, the novel provides some of the best insights into the curious mental state that is loneliness, threading through the immense anonymity and sameness that life can cloak itself with. Now, society as a whole thrives on dispelling physical loneliness - dwellings overrun into each other, marriages mean you are a unit of at least two, and technology makes a mockery of Euclidean spaces. But to the loner (who could be that by choice or otherwise), it only provides more evidence of how isolated she is.
But even the loneliest of lives have their share of excitement. Liz Dunn's life is invaded by the Hale-Bopp comet, a long-lost son, an even more lost past, and even a meteorite. This may seem terribly exciting to happen to one person, but unlike other novels where the novelty of the situation forms the raison d'etre of the book, here these events are mulled over and eventually decay to dullness. Liz is comfortable with her loneliness, which doesn't necessary stop her from thinking about it. But some changes are irreversible, and maybe, there's a little companionship in the horizon? Hard to tell.
Now, I'm not saying this is a great novel - far from it. It's a very easy read though. Liz is no fool - she may live outside the orbit of society, but there isn't much she can do about it. This enables her to make some objectively sardonic commentary about the others. The ending, indeed the entire progression may seem flawed and unable to go anywhere. But I didn't mind it not going anywhere. I was just surprised to see someone capture the idea of loneliness so well. Do exciting people lead exciting lives because exciting things happen to them, or because they make things exciting? People in novels are almost always exciting or are having exciting things happen to them (like the kids in Enid Blyton novels). It was a nice change to have Liz Dunn speak about a uni-life.