Eleanor Rigby

Eleanor Rigby

4.5 12
by Douglas Coupland

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"On a summer night in 1997, a comet streaks across the skies. Liz Dunn has nothing in her life but impending oral surgery and an armful of video rentals to get her through her solitary convalscence in her condo. She's overweight, crabby, and plain, but behind her dull exterior lurks a mind sharpened by years of observation and contemplation. Liz decides to seek peace…  See more details below


"On a summer night in 1997, a comet streaks across the skies. Liz Dunn has nothing in her life but impending oral surgery and an armful of video rentals to get her through her solitary convalscence in her condo. She's overweight, crabby, and plain, but behind her dull exterior lurks a mind sharpened by years of observation and contemplation. Liz decides to seek peace in her life rather than certainty - and then along comes another comet, in the form of a young man admitted to the local hospital with her name and number inscribed on his medical alert bracelet: In case of emergency, contact Liz Dunn." A charming lost soul and a strange visionary, Jeremy upends Liz's quiet existence, triggering a chain of events that take her to the other side of the world and back, endangering her life just as a real chance at happiness finally seems within reach.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Liz Dunn is fat, lonely and has no friends. That sounds harsh, but Coupland faces unpleasant facts head on in this poignant, funny, intrepidly offbeat new novel. The only exciting incident ever to brighten Liz's life was a class trip to Rome when she was 16, during which she attended a party where she drank so much she can't remember what happened. Nine months after she returned home, she gave birth to a son, an event hidden from her family because of her natural rotundness. Liz gave the child up for adoption and then launched into a life of perpetual loneliness (hence the title's nod to the lonely lady of Beatles fame). All this changes when her now 20-year-old son, Jeremy, shows up. He's a great kid, but his story is tragic-he bounced around foster homes until he could take care of himself, he has multiple sclerosis and his body is rapidly deteriorating. Coupland, whose hip literary homeruns include Generation X and Hey Nostradamus, avoids the pitfalls of weepy melodrama with sarcastic humor, inspired treatment of the weirdness of everyday life and dark mystical interludes (Jeremy has bleak visions about farmers who receive odd messages from God). At the novel's spectacular, and spectacularly unexpected, denouement, Liz finally meets the father of her son. It's a bittersweet reunion and a perfect ending to this clever, inspired, brilliantly strange tale. Agent, Eric Simonoff at Janklow & Nesbit. (Jan.) Forecast: This is Coupland's tightest novel in recent years and will likely attract new readers while fully satisfying his loyal base. Six-city author tour. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In his ninth novel, veteran Canadian writer Coupland (Hey Nostradamus!) treads familiar ground with wayward Generation X characters and feckless family members, but here he is particularly interested in how loneliness affects his protagonist, the chronically solitary Liz Dunn. Liz has reconciled herself to seeking inner peace as her primary goal in life, since companionship on any level will always elude her. This mindset changes when terminally drab Liz discovers that she has a 20-year-old son, Jeremy, who has a debilitating physical affliction but the looks, personality, and charm of a young Tom Cruise. In the first part, Coupland provides a moving narrative as Liz learns for the first time what it's like to care and provide for someone you love. Unfortunately, he ultimately falls back on old standbys (e.g., zany plot twists) and a surfeit of caustically hip turns of phrase that dismantle most everything of substance developed in the book's beginning. This departure from poignancy eventually results in a satisfying transformation for Liz but an unrealistic one for readers. Given the book's unevenness, recommended only where Coupland is popular.-Kevin Greczek, Ewing, NJ Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A remembrance of things past that turns inexplicably into a harbinger of the apocalypse-as well as Coupland's (Hey Nostradamus!, 2003, etc.) weirdest and most accomplished work to date. Liz Dunn, unmarried and unattached, works as a cubicle clone at some communications firm in Vancouver and appears to have few passions, obsessions, vocations, or hobbies. One night, however, she's struck by a bolt out of the blue-almost literally-when a fragment of a meteorite lands a few feet away from her in the parking lot of her local supermarket. All at once, her life begins to change: she becomes hopeful, lighthearted, and about as euphoric as a Canadian can be. Shortly thereafter, she even receives a telephone call from the Mounties asking her to stop in at a nearby hospital, where a young man has been admitted who claims to be her son-as, in fact, he is. Jeremy is the fruit of a one-night stand in Rome on a high school trip 20 years before, but Liz put him up for adoption immediately after his birth and never saw him again. Now, he has multiple sclerosis and is suffering from hallucinations brought on by drugs. Liz immediately assumes responsibility for his care, then slowly begins to recall the events of that long-ago summer in Rome. When police contact her and ask her to assist them in a difficult and extremely bizarre investigation, she even gets summoned to Vienna to meet the boy's father, whose name she has forgotten. En route, she inadvertently causes an international incident, shuts down one of the largest airports in the world, and ends up in jail. But she does it all with as little fuss as possible and manages to make her way to a happy end. Extremely funny yet quite moving (and evenplausible): could be one of the first great novels of the new century. Author tour. Agent: Eric Simonoff/Janklow & Nesbit
From the Publisher

“Coupland…writes a sparkling sentence and a mean epigram.” —Entertainment Weekly

“Coupland has crafted a formidable pop style that hooks up dead-on cultural anthropology with surprising reserves of emotion…What's remarkable is how easy it is for even the best adjusted among us to see ourselves in Coupland's compassionate (and occasionally madcap) portrait.” —Village Voice

“Told with abundant wit and a deceptive simplicity.” —Boston Globe

“Coupland's weirdest and most accomplished work to date…could be one of the first great novels of the new century.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Poignant, funny, intrepidly offbeat…[a] clever, inspired, brilliantly strange tale.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

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Product Details

ISIS Large Print Books
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Isis Hardcover Series
Edition description:
Large Type
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

Eleanor Rigby

By Douglas Coupland

Bloomsbury Publishing PLC

Copyright © 2005 Douglas Coupland
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1582345236

Chapter One

I had always thought that a person born blind and given sight later on in life through the miracles of modern medicine would feel reborn. Just imagine looking at our world with brand new eyes, everything fresh, covered with dew and charged with beauty -- pale skin and yellow daffodils, boiled lobsters and a full moon. And yet I've read books that tell me this isn't the way newly created vision plays out in real life. Gifted with sight, previously blind patients become frightened and confused. They can't make sense of shape or colour or depth. Everything shocks, and nothing brings solace. My brother, William, says, "Well think about it, Liz -- kids lie in their cribs for nearly a year watching hand puppets and colourful toys come and go. They're dumb as planks, and it takes them a long time to even twig to the notion of where they end and the world begins. Why should it be any different just because you're older and technically wiser?"

In the end, those gifted with new eyesight tend to retreat into their own worlds. Some beg to be made blind again, yet when they consider it further, they hesitate, and realize they're unable to surrender their sight. Bad visions are better than no visions.

Here's something else I think about: in the movies, the way criminals are ready to squeal so long as they're entered into a witness relocation program. They're given a brand new name, passport and home, but they'll never be able to contact anybody from their old life again; they have to choose between death and becoming someone entirely new. But you know what I think? I think the FBI simply shoots everybody who enters the program. The fact that nobody ever hears from these dead participants perversely convinces outsiders that the program really works. Let's face it: they go to the same magic place in the country where people take their unwanted pets.

Listen to me go on like this. My sister, Leslie, says I'm morbid, but I don't agree. I think I'm reasonable, just trying to be honest with myself about the ways of the world. Or come up with new ways of seeing them. I once read that for every person currently alive on earth, there are nineteen dead people who have lived before us. That's not that much really. Our existence as a species on earth has been so short. We forget that.

I sometimes wonder how big a clump you could make if you were to take all creatures that have ever lived -- not just people, but giraffes, plankton, amoebas, ferns and dinosaurs -- and smush them all together in a big ball, a planet. The gravitational mass of this new clump would make it implode into a tiny ball as hot as the sun's surface. Steam would sizzle out into space. But just maybe the iron in the blood of all of these creatures would be too heavy to leap out into space, and maybe a small and angry little planet with a molten iron core would form. And just maybe, on that new planet, life would start all over again.

I mention all of this because of the comet that passed earth seven years ago, back in 1997 -- Hale-Bopp, a chunk of some other demolished planet hurtling about the universe. I first saw it just past sunset while standing in the parking lot of Rogers Video. Teenage cliques dressed like hooligans and sluts were pointing up, at this small dab of slightly melted butter in the blue-black heavens above Hollyburn Mountain. Sure, I think the zodiac is pure hooey, but when an entirely new object appears in the sky, it opens some kind of window to your soul and to your sense of destiny. No matter how rational you try to be, it's hard to escape the feeling that such a celestial event portends some kind of radical change.

Funny that it took a comet to trigger a small but radical change in my life. In the years until then, I'd been sieving the contents of my days with ever finer mesh, trying to sort out those sharp and nasty bits that were causing me grief: bad ideas, pointless habits, robotic thinking. Like anybody, I wanted to find out if my life was ever going to make sense, or maybe even feel like a story. In the wake of Hale-Bopp, I realized that my life, while technically adequate, had become all it was ever going to be. If I could just keep things going on their current even keel for a few more decades, the coroner could dump me into a peat bog without my ever having once gone fully crazy.

I made the radical change standing in the video store's parking lot, holding copies of On the Beach, Bambi, Terms of Endearment, How Green Was My Valley and The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, staring up at the comet. I decided that instead of demanding certainty from life, I now wanted peace. No more trying to control everything -- it was now time to go with the flow. With that one decision, the chain-mail shroud I'd been wearing my entire life fell from my body and I was light as a gull. I'd freed myself.

* * *

Of course, we're born alone, and when we die, we join every living thing that's ever existed--and ever will. When I'm dead I won't be lonely any more -- I'll be joining a big party. Sometimes at the office, when the phones aren't ringing, and when I've completed my daily paperwork, and when The Dwarf To Whom I Report is still out for lunch, I sit in my chest-high sage green cubicle and take comfort in knowing that since I don't remember where I was before I was born, why should I be worried about where I go after I die?

In any event, were you to enter the cubicle farm that is Landover Communication Systems, you probably wouldn't notice me, daydreaming or otherwise. I long ago learned to render myself invisible. I pull myself into myself, and my eyes become stale and dull. One of my favourite things on TV is when an actor is in a casket pretending to be dead, or, even more challenging, laid out on a morgue's steel draining pan bathed in clinical white light. Did I see an eyelash flicker? Did that cheek muscle just twitch? Is the thorax pumping slightly? Is this particular fascination of mine goofy, or is it sick?

I'm alone now, and I was alone when I saw my first comet that night in the parking lot, the comet that lightened my burden in life. It made me so giddy, I chucked the rented tapes into my Honda's back seat and went for a walk over to Ambleside Beach. For once I didn't look wistfully at all the couples and parents and families headed back to their cars, or at the teenagers arriving to drink and drug and screw all night in between the logs on the sand.

A comet!

The sky!


The moon was full and glamorous -- so bright it made me want to do a crossword puzzle under its light, just to see if I could. I took off my runners and, with them in hand, I walked into the seafoam and looked west, out at Vancouver Island and the Pacific. I remembered an old Road Runner versus Coyote cartoon -- one in which the Coyote buys the world's most powerful magnet. When he turns it on, hundreds of astonishing things come flying across the desert toward him: tin cans, keys, grand pianos, money and weapons. I felt like I'd just activated a similar sort of magnet, and I needed to wait and see what came flying across the oceans and deserts to meet me.


Excerpted from Eleanor Rigby by Douglas Coupland Copyright © 2005 by Douglas Coupland. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Douglas Coupland is known worldwide as a writer with the ability to capture our techno-pop-culture existence to the page, as well as a deep understanding of the connections between people, and between all of us and our world. His work focuses on those moments in life where our material and spiritual realities conjoin, though it’s taken years — and a distinct rebalancing by Coupland — for this aspect of his writing to come to the forefront of his reviewers’ minds. But then again, who can blame them for strong preconceptions when Coupland’s first book, Generation X (1991), skipped the obscurity that is expected of first-time novelists everywhere and grabbed a central role in our culture’s vocabulary? Since then he has published more than fifteen books of fiction and nonfiction, including the novels Microserfs (1995), Miss Wyoming (1999), All Families Are Psychotic (2001) and Hey Nostradamus! (2003). His work has been translated into twenty-two languages and published in thirty countries.

Upon the original publication of Eleanor Rigby in November 2004, Douglas Coupland was often asked why he chose to write about loneliness, which is a major theme in the book. Coupland said his interest sprang partly from personal experience — he spent some time as a young adult trying to get to the root of his unhappiness, only to realize that he was lonely. But what really intrigued Coupland about the topic was our tendency to ignore what he considers to be one of the most common of life-stunting experiences. As he said in one interview, “I find lonely people aren’t allowed to exist, period. When you’re lonely, that’s all you can think about. Then the moment you’re not lonely, you run away and avoid lonely people altogether because you don’t want to be reminded of that part of your life. So we don’t talk about it. And when it happens, most people don’t know what it is. They think it must be clinical depression, or an allergy. I think because it is lumped in with depression and other medical conditions, people want to say, ‘Oh, just take your Paxil and come back when you’re feeling better.’ But it’s not like that.”

Coupland has also described Liz, the lonely narrator of Eleanor Rigby, as one of his most realistic characters yet. Not only does she exhibit the day-to-day preoccupations and sadness of our society’s less brilliant lights (i.e., most of us), but she also holds within her the seeds of her own spiritual transformation — a potential Coupland sees as inherent in all of us. Her character grew out of his thinking about another woman in his previous novel: “In my experience, the book you’re working on, the seed of it was sown in the previous book, which was Hey Nostradamus! and one of the characters was Heather. I really liked doing her character and thought she could be a bit more than she was, and that’s how Liz came about.”
Coupland has become as well known for his nonfiction and his artwork as he is for his fiction. After the success of his book City of Glass (2000), in which he used photographs and essays to illuminate Vancouver, Coupland broadened his lens and used the same approach for Souvenir of Canada (2002) and Souvenir of Canada 2 (2004), weaving together text and images of cultural objects to celebrate what it is to be Canadian. “I think it’s possible for objects to convey one person’s experience in a way that other people can tap into it,” he explained in an interview. “There is a way for objects to be the [touchstones] of shared experiences.” One of the photographs included in Souvenir 2 featured a worn and holey sock — the “lucky sock” worn by Terry Fox on his prosthetic leg during his Marathon of Hope. That book’s section on Terry Fox, combined with Coupland’s recognition of the amount of meaning that can be held by objects, became the starting point for Coupland’s most recent nonfiction book, Terry, which features photographs of Fox family memorabilia alongside moving text about Terry’s life. For Coupland, this project was one of the most meaningful he’s undertaken. He felt honoured to be able to contribute to Terry’s legacy by giving all Canadians another way of appreciating this hero’s accomplishments: “I can only look at this stuff for about twenty minutes at a time before losing it,” he said. “These images never lose their initial impact.”
For Douglas Coupland, writing is simply what he loves to do, so he does it. “Since 1991 we’ve been through massive cultural, social, technological changes, and the only thing that protects me or you or anyone, the only thing that can protect you in all this is figuring out what it is that you like to do, and then sticking with it. Because once you start to do what people expect you to do, or what your parents think you should do, or whoever in your life thinks you should do, you’re sunk.”

Coupland is also a visual artist and award-winning designer. In fact, he originally set out to be a designer and artist, not a writer. He graduated from the sculpture program at Vancouver’s Emily Carr College of Art and Design in 1984, then attended the Instituto Europeo di Design in Milan, Italy, and the Hokkaido College of Art and Design in Sapporo, Japan. In 1986, he completed a two-year course at the Japan-America Institute of Management Science in Honolulu, then ended up working as a designer in the Tokyo magazine world. Back in Canada in 1987, he showed enough promise as a sculptor to be given a show, “The Floating World,” at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Since then, he has exhibited throughout Canada and the world. His recent shows include “Canada House” at Toronto’s Design Exchange, featuring art and design objects that play with the notion of Canada, and “Super City,” at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal, an imaginary cityscape made up of famous buildings such as the CN Tower and the World Trade Center, constructed from building toys such as Lego. Coupland’s art has recently appeared in Montreal, Toronto, San Francisco, Milan and London, England, and he has won two Canadian National Awards for Excellence in Industrial Design.

Coupland was born on a Canadian Armed Forces base in Baden-Söllingen, Germany, in 1961, the third of four boys — which may account for the major presence of siblings in All Families Are Psychotic and his other novels. Or perhaps it gives Coupland his perspective. As he once commented, “People with many siblings are much more open to the truth that the world is an essentially barbaric place and is always on the brink of anarchy. Single children are the ones who want to bring about world peace through hugs.” Coupland has made the Vancouver area his home since the age of four, and can hardly imagine living anywhere else. He currently lives in West Vancouver, surrounded by trees but blessed with big windows, in a bungalow designed by Ron Thom.

Coupland’s next book is called jPod, and it’s a sequel, of sorts, to his 1995 novel Microserfs, which followed the lives of six young computer programmers in Silicon Valley. Coupland — who doesn’t normally reread any of his work — had to crack open the original book in order to tackle this new novel: “I hadn’t read it in eight years, but I thought I had to read it if I was going to carry through the same tone and spirit. It was great! I loved it! I was smarter and my brain worked better then.” jPod will be published in May 2006.

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Eleanor Rigby 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
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Opalite More than 1 year ago
It didn't take me long to finish this book. I found the main character engaging and intriguing. I enjoyed her cynical look at life along with her witty comments. Lately I have been stuck reading cheesy romance novels which aren't bad, they just don't make you think ... at all. I don't consider focusing on the baser aspects of humanity as being very thoughtful. With this book I found that my mind had been awakened once more! I also plan on reading more from this author.
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ClarkP More than 1 year ago
It is hard to put into words how much I liked this book. The writing is flawless, the plot is fantastic and creative. It is impossible not to sympathize with the main character. Douglas Coupland engages the reader and never lets go, even after you have finished reading. Coupland has become one of my favorite writers. Eleanor Rigby is one of my all time favorite books. I cannot see how anyone would be disappointed after reading this outstanding book. I feel confident in recommending this book to anyone.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not as awesome as all famalies, but i can still appreciate the dry protagonist and the lure of happy endings slipping away into unexpected ones.