The Gum Thief by Douglas Coupland

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The Gum Thief by Douglas Coupland

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 1.5/5
Reviewer: Keith Dudhnath
Reviewed by Keith Dudhnath
Summary: Two lonely workers in Staples form an unlikely bond. Their lives, despite their connection, remain isolated and lonely.
Buy? No Borrow? No
Pages: 288 Date: August 2008
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
ISBN: 978-0747593256

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Roger and Bethany work at Staples. Roger is a middle-aged loser, who's writing a novel. Bethany is younger, dresses in black, and hates her co-workers. They form an unlikely bond when Bethany finds Roger's notebook, and writes him a note. A friendship blossoms between the two of them, whilst they still remain isolated and lonely.

The Gum Thief was my first direct experience of Douglas Coupland's work, and I'm afraid to say it was a big disappointment. Although Bookbag's previous reviews of his work hadn't been gushing, they had some positives. I was looking hard for them, but unfortunately I found no such positives here.

The main thrust of the novel is the isolation of the two main characters (and of Bethany's mother DeeDee). However, each character largely speaks with the same voice. Whilst Coupland does adequately express their loneliness, there's little depth or progression to the characterisation.

Coupland's writing style is supposed to be punchy, fresh, and laced with exciting modern references. It left me cold. The references feel shoe-horned in: characters say 'JPEG' when real people on the internet would simply say 'picture' or 'photo'. Admittedly that's within the intentionally poor novel within the novel, but Gmail and Yahoo get similar clunky shout-outs from 'real' characters. The Gum Thief feels like it has been released five years too late: the internet has by now been fully adopted as a major and frequent tool in people's lives, rather than something they look at from afar, and use now and then.

Some of The Gum Thief isn't meant to be very good. Roger's novel, Glove Pond is Coupland self-satirising, but unfortunately the quality of the 'real' story isn't sufficiently superior. As such, any comments Coupland has to make about writing fall flat, and any humour that would otherwise be derived from the situation is largely missing.

I'm searching hard to find any positives, and am coming up blank. Fans of Coupland would be better advised to re-read an old favourite. Fans of quirky, modern novels would be better advised to read Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje.

Thanks to the publishers for sending it to Bookbag.

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