Saturday, March 01, 2008

The Coma by Alex Garland

#21 The Coma by Alex Garland
Copyright 2004
Riverhead Books/Fiction
200 pages
Finished 3/1/08

What led you to pick up this book? The truth? I was digging through a cabinet in search of Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, which I may or may not own (I just don't remember) and came across The Coma whilst moving a pile to look at double-shelved books. The cover caught my eye because of a post at Jeremy Blachman's blog, which led me to The Book Design Review, where this post made me laugh. The images on the cover of The Coma are indicative of block-print illustrations inside, not silhouettes as shown in the post at The Book Design Review, but the black and white cover grabbed me because I just read the post about silhouette covers, two days ago.

Summarize the plot but don't give away the ending. An attempt to save a girl from having her purse snatched on the Tube ends in a beating that lands Carl in a coma. He eventually wakes to find that things are not quite right. Is he having blackouts? Is he still comatose? Or, is Carl simply dreaming?

What did you like most about the book? It was surreal and mind-bending without falling into total incomprehensibility.

What did you think of the characters? Carl seems incredibly logical for a fellow who is attempting to reason out whether he's actually conscious or not. I liked him for his logic and his willingness to stand up to help someone when he was clearly outnumbered. The rest of the characters were dubious, as the reader didn't know for certain whether they were real or figments of his imagination.

Share a favorite scene from the book: I liked the point at which Carl decided that if he was comatose he could wake himself up with music or books, but he couldn't remember the right lyrics and the books contained only a few words. Here's an excerpt:

"Tough. That's all there is. But no problem, we'll move on to The Catcher in the Rye." I cleared my throat. 'Pretty phoney,' said Holden Caulfield. The End.' "

"Sir . . . " said the girl.

"Wait. I haven't gotten to Austen yet. 'It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man in want of a woman is a man in need of things that a woman with needs can want to universally acknowledge.' " I closed the book with a snap. "It goes on in a similar vein for another three-hundred-odd pages. It makes you wonder why they teach it at school, don't you think?"

5/5 - Couldn't put it down.

In general:
Totally bizarre fun. Once I picked it up, I couldn't bear to set the book down till I'd finished it; and, fortunately, it was also an extremely fast-paced read. But, I do wish I hadn't begun reading the book at 11pm. Such things make a girl's head throb.


  1. Oh this one sounds awesome!! I love that cover too! I may just have to get this one just to have that cover in my library...I do silly things like that :p I tend to like surreal books and I like books with people in comas too which always sounds awfully boring, but the right author can write such a great story with that! My NaNo book has a main character in a coma!

  2. Chris,

    That doesn't sound so silly to me. :) I like the funky cover, too -- and surrealism (if it's done well) and comas. And amnesia. I love amnesia, even if it has been overdone. Cool that your NaNo has a character in a coma! Coma is a nice, quick read. Yeah, actually, I think you'd like it. The cover says Alex Garland is the "international bestselling author of The Beach and the film 28 Days Later". Have you read or seen either of those?

  3. Boy, did he sum Catcher in the Rye up perfectly!

    It sounds like a great book and I'm glad you enjoyed it so much.

    Isn't 28 Days later that movie about some sort of plague like disease destroying the population of England? Something like that...


  4. CJ,

    No kidding. LOL

    It's an unusual read; I can't say if you'd like it or not, but I definitely think it's a Chris book and you tend to like the books Chris enjoys, right? So, if A = B = C, you'd love it.

    I think, yes, that's the movie. I haven't seen it; I'm pretty sure someone warned me away, knowing my tendency to nightmares.

  5. *sigh* Just typed a big long comment. The gist: looks like a great book! Love the cover!

  6. Andi,

    Oh, no! Is Blogger pulling those stunts, again? Sorry you lost your comment. I hate that.

    Come to think of it, Coma is probably an Andi book, too. You and I love "weird" with equal intensity, don't we?

  7. This does sound interesting, Nancy. Different and fun. Thanks for the great review!

  8. Wendy,

    Thank you. I really enjoyed the book; I'm going to bounce over and look up The Beach to see what it's about.

  9. Bookfool, Oh wow! 28 Days Later is one of my favorite films! It's amazing. It's a zombie film, but it's so much more than that. It's a bit terrifying and gruesome at the beginning, but it's just beautifully shot and the story is just amazing. I've gotta read this now! The beach was great too though I haven't seen it in awhile.

  10. I think I wasn't too crazy about this when I read it a few years ago but I'd OD'd on coma stories so it was bad timing. I did love the illustrations though. Wasn't it his dad who did them? And wasn't there some mystery about a briefcase? Hmm. Maybe I should read it again sometime, it is short.

  11. Sounds fantastic!! And I agree with Chris. I'm a sucker for a great cover. I loved 28 Days Later, altough The Beach bored me to tears the first time I saw it. After watching it again, I appreciated it a little better. Boy, you were a reading machine this month!!

  12. Chris,

    "Gruesome" and "zombie" are the key words, here. Okay, now I know why I haven't seen 28 Days Later. LOL Well, then, you'll just have to read Coma. Sorry, you have no choice. :)


    I didn't pay attention to who did the illustrations, but there was definitely a mystery about the briefcase. The fact that the police didn't find a briefcase at the scene of the crime and didn't see one carried by the thieves when they viewed the security videos gave Carl his first clue that something was off.

    OD'd on coma stories? Okay, now I'm curious what other books you read, around that time. I can see how they'd become tiresome, but this choice was rather random and the last coma story I read was about a man hit by a piece of ice. That was a good one, too, actually.

  13. Stephanie,

    I haven't seen either movie, but the book was great and, yep, love that cover. I doubt I'd have thought to pick it up if I hadn't seen that article about book covers with silhouettes, though. Funny how those things work. :)

    Thanks, I had a great month. I'm happy with my February stats.

  14. Thanks, Nancy! This one sounds too good to miss.

  15. Jenclair,

    I really enjoyed it. If you read it, please let me know. It'll be fun to read a few more opinions. I don't think it'll turn out to be everyone's cup of tea.

  16. That book sounds fabulous! I think I'm going to see if the bookstore has it on my way home.

    Not that I have time! But just in case. Oh, he wrote the zombie books? Huh.

  17. Carrie,

    It's totally weird. You'll probably love it or hate it. Aren't I helpful?

    The cover says he's the author of The Beach and I think it implies he's the screenwriter of 28 Days, but I haven't read or seen either so I should say, "Don't ask the blonde." There's probably a 6-word expanded title in there, somewhere. :)

  18. I thought this one sounded familiar. While at the bookstore a few weeks ago with a coworker, I pointed out The Beach and saw this one sitting next to it. Sounds like a lot of fun! I'll have to check it out--its been years since I read The Beach (must have been 2001 because I was in NYC just a few months before 9/11), but it was a really engrossing/bizarre read as well.

  19. Found a website which might make you happy! :D

  20. I have nothing against coma story lines but it was funny that I ended up reading 3 in a row, The Coma being the third one. This was before blogging at the end of 2005. The other 2 were The Ninth Life of Louis Drax by Liz Jensen and My Name is Sei Shonagon by Jan Blensdorf. I didn't mind The Ninth Life.. but My Name is.. was a bit disappointing.
    BTW, I have this cover. I like yours better! :)

  21. Maggie,

    Thank you! The timing may be a little off for me (again!) but I'll put it on my calendar, just in case. :)


    I can't believe I've gone several days without seeing "The" on the cover. I'll have to fix my post to correct the title error.

    Anyway, wow. Three coma books in a row could get a little annoying. Oh, urgh, my cover is much better. LOL Have you ever read anything else by Alex Garland? I've got it in my head that I have to find more of his books, now.

  22. Well I didn't even notice that you hadn't included the 'The'.
    No I haven't read anything else by Garland. I haven't even seen 'The Beach' or '28 Days Later' so I have absolutely nothing to compare it to. The old "too many books..." excuse! :)

  23. Nat,

    Same here. The Coma was a purchase made during a day of wild abandon -- I can't say I even really paid all that much attention to it because I simply bought anything that interested me, when our bookstore (during their "going out of business" sale) reached the point that all the paperbacks were marked down to $1. Now, I've got another author to look for. Like I needed that. :)


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