September 7, 2009
First published in: 2004
This edition: Riverhead books, 2004
Cover & book illustrations by Nicholas Garland
When Carl wakes up from a coma, which he slipped into after receiving the beating of a lifetime while traveling the subway, his life seems very different from his life before the coma. He experiences black-outs, and discovers strange things about himself that surprise him. As more time passes, Carl grows increasingly confused; is he really out there and awake, or is his mind playing a cruel trick on him?
The Coma takes you on a trip, exploring consciousness and how it intertwines with reality. I finished the book in one sitting. That’s rare for me. (I usually need to put a book down every once in a while and mull it over while keeping myself occupied with other chores and hobbies, and then get back to it later, more attentive.)
Then again, the book isn’t even 200 pages long with a large type, wide spacing between sentences and including page-sized (but suitably atmospheric) woodcut illustrations by the author‘s father Nicholas Garland – so that had something to do with it. It didn’t take long, in other words.
Nonetheless, The Coma was unputdownable; it kept me in suspense and wonder. I like being surprised, I like wondering. Oh, I got plenty of that in the form of surreal settings and dreamlike descriptions.
“What the [….]?” (insert curse word of your own preference; mine started with an ‘f’) was exclaimed a countless amount of times. My eyebrows found their way up, nearing my hairline, throughout most of the book. I reread paragraphs to make sense of it all.
Oh yes, I felt intrigued at first, but taken for a fool as I neared the ending. (Yet I kept hoping for something. After all, Alex Garland wrote “The Beach” and the screenplay for “28 Days Later”.) As much as I like being a bit of a detective as I read (which is what appeals me to reading mysteries; feeling as if I‘m actively thinking with the narrator), I also need to feel like I’m going somewhere. Alex Garland didn’t offer me that. And then I reached the end, and I felt robbed.
The experience reminded me of Michael Douglas in that movie, “The Game”. Yeah thanks for watching it was all a joke, SURPRISE, hahahahaha. Haaaaa. There’s two hours of my life that I am NEVER, EVER getting back. And The Coma, similarly, fell flat.
Even though this book was clearly more about the reading experience, exploring the dream state, The Coma was more like an indulgent writing exercise for the writer; in my opinion, it should have stayed in his drawer, or it should have been rewritten to have more substance before being published. I’m positive Garland is a fine writer, I got that from his prose in this book, but The Coma didn’t serve as the best first impression. Luckily, I purchased this book for a few euros at a book fair.
I could end this review cleverly with a, “This book was so boring, it nearly put me to sleep!” But that would be untrue. It wasn’t boring. But with an ending such as this, in hindsight I feel that I have wasted my time. Time I now think would have been better spent actually asleep, dreaming my own dreams.
R&R series (and its photos, reviews) © Karin Elizabeth 2008-2009
© Karin E. Lips
2008-2010 and beyond.