PW: Is the title of your new novel [Eleanor Rigby] a reference to how lonely your heroine is?
Douglas Coupland: I've always loved the [eponymous] song, and I wondered, how does a person end up like that? How could a person be that lonely, and how do you work around it and with it? It's a very taboo subject in the culture. Also, "Eleanor Rigby" was the first song I ever heard where I could tell the difference between major and minor chords, and because of that I ended up playing the piano as well. It's a beautiful song. It holds up after all these decades and it has been a catalyst in many ways in my own life....
In the course of 24 hours, loneliness is the most common sensation that most people go through, and it is so strangely underrepresented. Even when things are good, I think people are lonely a lot. I find it strange that people don't write about it all the time. I think of anything else on the planet, it's the one thing that unites everybody.
How does Eleanor Rigby differ from your earlier works?
In a very obvious sense, I am older, so the characters have the perception that comes only with age. Also, those little notepads you get at drug stores and gas stations—I used to always have one on me in the early '90s. I kept pens with me, and I was taking notes every five minutes and driving people crazy. Then, as the years went on, I began to notice that the things people reprinted or wanted to talk about were the things I just sort of made up on the spur of the moment. And so with the last book and this book, I said, you know what, I'm just going to sit down and make up the whole thing from scratch, with no notes whatsoever. And I think that... there is a certain purity you get from that.
I come from the art school tradition, where experimentation is the norm and the last thing you want is to get into a sort of rut. And I think, much to the annoyance of my publisher, every book I do is completely different in texture and intent. And that just sort of reflects my attitude, which is fairly experimental. I am very lucky. I get to experiment for a living. And sometimes experiments work better than others, and I think this one really worked.
The loneliest woman in the world finds true love in your novel. Is that an obvious message?
I think so, yeah. Loneliness in universal, and I don't think you can escape that. And I think a lot of people think that falling in love is the only way to become unlonely. Liz did not set out to fall in love with this guy, it just kind of happened. And I think if she had been setting out to do it, it would have been a complete failure. Yes, you can definitely fall in love, but seeking it out is not the answer, I think. [The book] is definitely hopeful. And I think I am a hopeful person.
Would you describe yourself as a romantic?
People tell me I am, but I don't think so. I think I am very much a pragmatist. I believe that people are just one tiny notch more good than they are bad, and I think that's just what saves us from turning earth into one great big microwave oven.