From Publishers Weekly
In the latest novel by the bestselling author of the Generation X thriller The Beach
, a young man who fell into a coma after being assaulted on the London Underground tries to piece his life back together. Shuttling in dreamlike fashion between his hospital bed and a hazy succession of places—his apartment, friends' houses, a record shop, a bookshop, his childhood home, a shrine—he sifts through conflicting memories of his past and unanswerable questions about his present. The novel reaches for Kafkaesque ambiguity—is the narrator awake or in a dream? did he ever come out of the coma? is there a difference between ourselves and our fantasies?—but Garland's parable feels more like an exercise than a true exploration, constricted by its sluggish pace and plodding prose ("I stood. I raised a hand. I said, 'Hey' "). Forty woodblock illustrations by the author's father, Sir Nicholas Garland, a political cartoonist and artist, are handsome but function as little more than filler. By the end of the story, with the narrator unable to tell the difference between reality and fantasy, he finally decides, "None of it was real. I didn't care." Chances are good the reader will feel the same way.
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Most reviewers compared The Coma
to comic books or film, perhaps because, as a novel, it doesn’t hold up terribly well. Its brevity necessitates some glaring omissions, such as Carl’s age and job, and it’s tough to care about the characters when we don’t know much about them. Garland aims not so much to tell a good story as to examine and perhaps replicate altered states of consciousness. Some find the project intriguing, but for most, Garland’s insights aren’t worth their narrative price. Blending illustration with a quick-cutting style that hearkens back to Garland’s screenwriting days (he wrote the film “28 Days Later”), The Coma
may hold some interest for those who enjoy literary experimentation for its own sake. For others, however, it may prove unsatisfying.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.