A wandering plot is usually a problem in a novel, but it oddly works in Alex Garland’s The Coma. In the most basic sense, a man is severely beaten by a group of thugs in the London Tube. Despite being beaten unconscious, the voice of the main character continues to speak. He is aware that he is horribly injured and has gone to the hospital, but something isn’t quite right. Through a series of strange events, he realizes he is not awake and is indeed in a coma.
Thus begins an odd journey of attempting to find a way to wake himself up. It’s through this journey that Garland contends the human mind is a strange landscape where imagination fuses with reality and self discovery is easier said than done. Essentially, The Coma is an existential adventure. Garland creates a beautiful open-ended allegory that asks us to consider what truly defines reality and what constitutes the self. There is no clear-cut end to the story, just as there is no such thing as a clear-cut definition of existence.
Garland’s simplistic approach to presenting a rather complicated topic is what makes this little novel a pleasure to read. Even with a meandering storyline that isn’t always anchored to a strong foundation, there is an indescribable “pull” to keep turning the pages. Admittedly, the ending is a bit frustrating, but it’s also absolutely perfect. Reality is all about perception – what is gibberish for one, makes perfect sense to another.
The Coma is an interesting and surprisingly fast read. I’d recommend it for anyone who enjoys a nice little fictional jaunt into philosophical contemplation.