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The Coma Hardcover – June 17, 2004

3.4 out of 5 stars 58 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

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.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover; First Edition edition (June 17, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1573222739
  • ISBN-13: 978-1573222730
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #782,718 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What a bizarre, haunting little book! If you're familiar with Garland's work that description probably won't surprise you. Garland is a master of literary bizarreness. His precise and evocative language has, in the past, led him to be compared to Graham Greene; this novel, in my opinion, owes more to Kafka in its complex simplicity, sense of dread and sometimes hopelessness, and just all-around creepiness. The concept is simple: what happens, what does the mind experience, when one is in a trauma-induced coma? The answers Garland provides are chilling. In a way, the entire novel is a meditation on Descartes' age-old argument of "cogito ergo sum," but Garland is interested in that space in which *only* thought exists (not, I suspect, what Descartes had in mind). The result is downright disturbing at times, and the sense of confused reality is only heightened by the wood-carved illustrations (provided by Garland's father, a London political cartoonist) that follow each chapter. These illustrations are essential to the book's atmosphere, and I spent just as much time pondering them as I did pondering the questions about Being that the younger Gardner raised. This book will probably not find a wide audience, and will disappoint/bore/go over the heads of most book-club types. But it's a truly brilliant work, and I believe it will secure Garland a place amongst the masters.
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Format: Hardcover
It had been a while since Alex Garland had published a novel. After The Beach and The Tesseract, Garland worked on the amazing horror flick 28 Days Later. The Coma, a short novella that is, like everything else Garland has written, not easily classifiable. This ends up being the novel's forte and also its biggest flaw.
While trying to help a woman who is being attacked on a subway, Carl is beaten to a bloody pulp and left for dead. A long while later, he wakes up from the coma the attack left him in and returns home. But he soon realizes that nothing is as it used to be. Things have changed, things are wrong, things are just unexplainable. Time seems to be moving faster, Carl finds himself moving from one place to another without remembering having done so. And how about those invisible bleeding wounds on his body?
Garland weaves his narrative just like a dream. One second we're standing in one place, the next we're in a total different setting. Things are disjointed and they don't always make sense for the reader. Until, that is, something crucial is revealed to us that changes the way we see or understand the events taking place in the narrative.
Told in the first person over very short chapters, with interesting visual images to guide us through the story, The Coma is a story that is both imaginary and frighteningly real. As always, Garland lets his imagination run wild to create a one-of-a-kind trip to the human psyche.
Then again, the book left me craving for more. I wanted more out of Carl, wanted to learn more from the characters and the situations they were in. Over the course of two very short chapters, Garland tells us a bit about Carl's childhood, but not enough to eradicate my curiosity. Some sections could have been fleshed out a bit more.
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Format: Hardcover
I loved all of Garland's previous work, from "The Beach" to "The Tesseract" to his creepy story "R.S.S." in "The Weekenders" anthology and his script for the film "28 Days Later" -- but this was a severe disappointment. The idea at work is hardly original, the execution of it is mostly tepid, and the overall effect is reminiscent of being the only sober person in basement of stoned teenagers discussing consciousness. The line between dream life and reality is a recurring theme in Garland's work -- in "The Beach" there was the dead man popping up to "talk" to the protagonist, in "The Tesseract" there was the researcher recording the dreams of two street urchins, and "28 Days Later" begins with a man waking from a coma and trying to figure out if he was actually awake and in the "real" world. In this latest work, we meet a man who tries to intervene with a group of teenagers harassing a woman on the subway, only to get his head kicked in and end up in a coma (if nothing else, reading the book will put a damper on one's instinct to stick up for the innocent).

The primary force driving the narrative is the man's quest to unravel his own identity and wake himself up from his coma. The reader is taken down paths which, just like dreams, are somewhat askew and surreal. These are occasionally interesting, such as a bookstore in which the classics have been reduced to their single most famous line, or the record store selling albums where the lyrics are slightly wrong. However, midway through, Garland comes right out and says that it's impossible to represent the strange state of dream consciousness using the written word. That's pretty much a given, but one wishes it could have been a little more interesting.
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Format: Hardcover
From my weird title you probably get the feel of what it is to read this book...maybe.
Alex Garland wrote one of my favourite books of all time: The Beach. While The Beach was a pretty big success (if you've seen the movie you haven't really experienced The Beach, they're very different from one another) his second book wasn't as big but was equally entertaining and different. With the release of 28 Days Later Garland delved into some interesting territory already explored by other filmmakers but with Danny Boyle they created something incredibly exciting and new in the genre. This introduction now brings me to my thoughts on Garland's third novel (more of a novella than an actual book) and fourth writing project. I liked the fact that this was a tightly written and eloquently short read but I was slightly dismayed at the predictability of the proceedings (some surprises but in general I felt I had read it before). The language that Garland uses is crisp and creates a totally visual experience. Although his father included several interesting woodcarvings to accompany each chapter they seem a little excessive and unnecessary since the language is so clear. This is foremost a writer's experiment and it is the most different, in terms of `defined story', of his four previous works. While I found the book creepy at first it began to take on a comedic tone and is so short that I was able to finish it in little more than an hour and some (give or take, I don't use a stopwatch). I found this book to be interesting and a worthwhile investment since many of the thoughts, ideas, and descriptions stay with you long after you put the book down. For fans of Garland's work this is a must have for your collection to see where Garland is moving as an artist but for casual readers it may just be a fun little ride (this review is based on a first reading only and the novella needs to be read a second time).
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