The Coma by Alex Garland (2004) 208 p.
The Coma has a simple premise: while commuting home late one night, a man named Carl tries to protect a woman from thugs on a train and finds himself brutally assaulted. After being released from hospital he realises that something is wrong: his life is disjointed, impossible things are happening, and he seems to be hallucinating. He soon realises that he never left the hospital at all, and that he is trapped in a coma. Realising that he must be the instrument of his own salvation, he sets about exploring the dreamscape in an effort to wake up.
Clocking in at around two hundred pages (this is one of the first books I’ve read in ages that doesn’t number its pages; I got the count off Amazon), many of which are white space of woodcut illustrations made by garland’s father, The Coma is a quick and easy read. It had to be, of course – an exploration of one’s mental landscape, with all the metaphors and weirdness required, would be far too tedious to cover a whole novel. As it stands, Garland manages the description quite well, and The Coma never feels like a chore to read – although novellas rarely do.
It does work quite well as a story, with a few glimpses of figures in Carl’s hospital room making intriguing statements providing mystery, plus the simple desire to find out whether or not he successfully wakes up. There’s also an unsettling sense of eerie alienation, with a few genuinely disturbing scenes; this is a book that could very easily be adapted into a horror film.
Interesting enough to hold my attention. Not worth seeking out, but certainly worth the $5 for which I bought it at Borders’ holy-shit-we-are-on-the-brink-of-bankruptcy sale.