Dude tries to stop some young thugs from beating up a sweet young thang on the tube. Dude gets the crap kicked out of him. Dude falls into a coma. Dude enters into an incredibly self-conscious reverie as he attempts to wake himself up from said coma.
And there we have the entirety of Alex Garland’s The Coma. Not all stories with simple plots are brief or insubstantial, but both are true for this book. And when I say brief, I mean brief. It’s only 208 pages, it’s a smaller-than-average hardcover book, every chapter starts with a woodcut illustration, and the font is big. If you’re a book size queen, you’ll barely notice this tiny tome.
That’s not to say it’s a bad book. It’s just that, as a whole, the story was obvious and, well, kind of juvenile. If a precocious high-school kid had been given a writing assignment about the nature of consciousness, she might’ve come up with something like this.
The concept itself is pretty damn cool, but if you were made to suffer through Descartes or Waking Life at some point in college, this book covers much of the same ground. What is being? What is reality? What is the nature of consciousness? What is the nature of perception? Unfortunately, this book doesn’t offer anything new, insightful or particularly interesting.
A few of aspects of the book manage to save the story from being utter drek. The surreal yet concrete nature of the coma patient’s experiences mimic the dreaming state quite credibly. Three scenes in particularâ€”one in the narrator’s bathroom, in which he discovers he’s bleeding, one in a music shop and one in a bookstoreâ€”are truly excellent. These scenes, however, are fleeting, and the deeper ramifications are left unexplored.
Garland’s prose style, as always, is gorgeous. If sacrificing shaved gerbils at the altar of the ancient Sumerian god Manititti would help me write sentences as clean and beautiful Garland’s, my house would be well-stocked with really tiny razorblades.
(Don’t worry, the gerbils are safe. I’m content to envy Garland from afar.)
The woodcut illustrations for the story, courtesy of Garland’s father, Nicholas Garland, are also gorgeous. On one hand, they add a certain oomph to the book. On the other hand, I couldn’t help feeling that they were used to pad the pagecount.
After the wonderful stories Garland offered in The Beach (get the British version, the American version seemed to be modified quite heavily), The Tesseract and 28 Days Later, The Coma hath broken my fangirlish heart.
OK, not broken. But it’s dinged quite severely.