Reading & Reviewing | R&R 015
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R&R 015 | Shampoo Planet

Douglas Coupland
Shampoo Planet
Simon & Schuster, 1993
Cover art & design by John Gall (design), Sigrid Estrada (photo), Syd Brak (shampoo effects)
299 pages
Book bought in New York
Flickr post

Douglas Coupland, armed with that secret weapon of his – a knack for capturing the nineties Zeitgeist – offers an analytical satire entitled "Shampoo Planet".

Tyler Johnson is everything his hippie mother Jasmine isn't. Tyler appreciates consumerism, is in awe of snazzy technology and cannot possibly miss out on any brand of shampoo – or other hair care products for that matter. He thinks he knows exactly what he wants: a dreamjob working for the company responsible for his very favourite hair care products. Add having a sweet girlfriend by his side (Anna-Louise) to that, and Tyler feels he's set after he graduates with his motel-hotel degree in his pocket.

But Tyler decides, in between all this, to hop over to Europe and have some fun and when he returns home, have everything go as planned afterwards.
But Europe isn't done with Tyler… his French summerfling Stephanie decides to come for a life-disrupting visit. A visit which proves to be a learning experience for Tyler and the people affected by him.

Colourful and diverse characters are all provided for in this novel. The metrosexual hairproduct addict. The opportunistic gold-digging French girl looking for fame in Hollywood. The overly feministic (yet, contoversially) bulimic girlfriend. They are rather shallow though, which is something I am not used to in Coupland's novels – even though this one is meant to be satirical.

The message Coupland tries to send out, however, is clear. The world, in between Tyler and Jasmine's generation, has rapidly changed into something less desirable. Into a world where the right shampoo brand is what matters.

In reviewing "Shampoo Planet" now, I am somewhat reminded of the movie "Into the Wild", where a young man sets out to find the opposite of Tyler's life's ambitions. He escapes to find freedom from society as it is (with its fixation on technology and consumerism). But as he is alone in Alaska, the young man learns that it's not that simple. Running away from your life and the people in it doesn't solve anything. (This is a movie you must see, by the way.)

When Tyler turns his back on his friends and family and embarks with Stephanie on their own adventure to California – to live the Hollywood dream – Tyler is in effect taught a similar lesson.

Having read several of Coupland's other (newer) novels, I do have to say that while this book has a valuable point to make and is written in a feisty type of descriptive prose, it isn't as strong as "Girlfriend in a Coma" or several of the essays in "Polaroids from the Dead" (a review of which I have yet to post). The plotline is generally rather flat, and while plot probably wasn't Coupland's main concern for this book, the result still is that I could not be very enthusiastic or excited about the message that is given throughout the novel, or the lesson the main character learns in the end.

This is not to say Coupland failed. To me "Shampoo Planet" shows that Coupland had so much potential as an original author already at the time this novel was published (1992), and that he could only grow out to be better. And in my opinion he most certainly developed into an outstanding author.

(ETA: I've read Girlfriend in a Coma, Hey Nostradamus!, JPod, Miss Wyoming, Polaroids from the Dead and my very favourite, Eleanor Rigby. Microserfs and The Gum Thief are on my to-read-shelf and Generation X is on the wishlist.)

April 2008.

Book review & accompanying photo copyright Karin Elizabeth. Do NOT copy and repost or reproduce the text or photo anywhere without my permission. Contact me if you'd like to use this review.
Copyright © Karin Elizabeth. All rights reserved. This photo is public only so you ("the public") may view it; it is not to be used as free stock. Use without written consent by the author (that would be me) is illegal and punishable by law; I will take action. This goes for blogging, as well. So, contact me beforehand if you are interested in using this image or any of my others (non-)commercially.

Karin Elizabeth
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