Player One by Douglas Coupland

PlayerOne by Douglas CouplandI read this new novel (2010) by Douglas Coupland only a few weeks after reading last year’s novel Generation A. Now, at the end of that novel, we were left with five people on an island after bees had become extinct. In this new novel, there are four people stranded in an airport hotel bar after the oil price has reached unimaginable heights (in a way, oil has become extinct).

Same-old? Yes and no.

Jackie from Farm Lane Books and I read this book at the same time. We sent each other comments via Twitter and it was interesting to see how we had more or less the same reaction to the book. Her review will be up in a few days, so have a look at her blog too.

Player One: What it is about

The story centers around four people who are stuck in a hotel bar. Rick is the bar keeper, Rachel is trying to find someone to impregnate her, Karen is meeting an internet date and Luke is a priest who has run off with $20,000 of his parishioners’ donations.

When the oil price suddenly goes through the roof, mayhem ensues in the world around them. Flights are cancelled, there are long queues at petrol stations, and, much worse, a cloud of toxic chemicals is emptying itself above the airport (and probably elsewhere too).

When a man with a shotgun is sighted, the four people in the hotel bar lock themselves in and tape off windows and doors against the chemicals.

The rest of the book involves the four main characters discussing and thinking about religion, mainly.

Player One: What I thought

I haven’t finished the book. Yet. No worries, it’s not that bad. And I will finish it, for sure. It’s just, there is a 30-page appendix at the end of the book with definitions of new words. E.g., Lyrical Putty: The lyrics one creates in one’s head in the absence of knowing a song’s real lyrics.

I cannot handle page after page of definitions that are totally unconnected (they are in alphabetical order). There is a connection with the story on the previous pages, but it’s not strong enough for me to read these all in one go. So I’ll read them over the coming days.

In Generation A there were many stories within the story. As I pointed out there, I don’t like that. In Player One there are no embedded stories, but there are quotes. Many quotes. No, I’m saying it wrong. There are many quotable sentences. The second half of the book contains about 50% quotable sentences, while the first half is also abundant with them. This makes the book a joy to read, as the pleasure centre of my brain is constantly triggered by another good sentence.

There is also a drawback, and that is that there is too much to think about in too few sentences. As Jackie asked me: Can there be too much wisdom in one novel? I think that’s probably the case here. Certain topics such as time, humans vs animals, bodies, religion are discussed from different angles, sometimes very briefly. The reader does not get the chance to form their own opinion about this (except if they’d put the book away for a moment) as the story already continues with another thoughtful quotable sentence.

The second half of the book had a strong focus on religion which is not a topic I enjoy in a novel. I would rather have learned more about the outside world. We know what happened in the hotel bar, but what was going on in the rest of the world? As the t.v. and radio didn’t work, we were only given sparse information.

However, I do understand that the writer created the isolated bar world on purpose through the apocalypse. The isolation was needed so the characters could concentrate on each other and come out with great philosophical statements about religion and the world. What happened to the rest of the world was not important for this scenario.

I liked: that Karen and her date met in an oil price chat room. That’s right, a chat room where people discuss oil prices!

I didn’t like: the fact that the whole world came to a stand still as soon as oil prices went up a lot. I think it is very unlikely that more or less immediately all flights are cancelled, long queues at petrol stations, etc. I’m sure this would happen gradually, over the course of a day or more, not within an hour after the announcement.

Rating: 4/5

I got this book: from the bookshop

I read this in: English, the original language

Number of pages: 246

First published: 2010

Genre: literary fiction, dystopian fiction, philosophy

Extra: Check out my review of Generation A by Douglas Coupland

About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

10 Responses to Player One by Douglas Coupland

  1. Cindy says:

    Two things jumped out at me: Rick’s Bar from Casablanca and the post-apocalyptic landscape of A Creed for the Third Millennium by Colleen Mccullough.
    Methinks Mister Coupland drew inspiration?
    I shall have to read the book to find out.

    • leeswammes says:

      I couldn’t tell you, Cindy, as I haven’t seen Cassablanca (yes, I know!) and don’t know the McCullough book. But post-apocalyptic sounds good – I should have a look at that.

  2. Nadine Nys says:

    It sounds like a really interesting book, although I tend to read to fast to really savour what you call quotable sentences.

    • leeswammes says:

      Nadine, I am also a fast reader so I had to adapt for this one. Since I don’t savour every sentence either, it got a little frustrating. But the sentences in isolation made great quotes. I realise I didn’t give examples. I don’t like quotes in reviews (or elsewhere), I tend to skip then when I see them in other people’s’reviews so I dont put them in my own reviews very often, either.

  3. Suzanne says:

    An interesting topic for a novel, hopefully one that does not become reality…

    I have read a few of Coupland’s earlier stuff, and I found them difficult to read, not for the content but for his style. A shame, because he does have interesting things to say.

  4. Pingback: Player One by Douglas Coupland – Farm Lane Books Blog

  5. I’ve finally got around to posting my review 🙂


    I thought it interesting that you said:

    “I didn’t like: the fact that the whole world came to a stand still as soon as oil prices went up a lot.”

    I think it is likely that everything would change very quickly if oil prices went up that fast. I can see planes being grounded etc, but what I don’t see is the public going mad so quickly. I agree it would take a few days for people to realise the implications of this. They wouldn’t start rioting straight away.

  6. Karen says:

    Great review. Thanks for sending me the link. It actually sounds like the kind of book I would love to be honest. I’m not a quote person either. I don’t have the memory for it and I don’t feel the need to post them on my blog (at least not yet anyway).

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