A man sits by himself on a subway and watches a group of teenagers harass a woman and try to steal her purse. She gets away from them and moves closer, sitting down next to the men. The teenagers follow and try again to grab the woman's purse. This time the man stands up, raises his arm, and says "Hey". What follows is the man being struck, knocked down, and kicked until he is unconscious. This is the starting point of Alex Garland's third novel "The Coma".
The man (he remains unnamed throughout the novel) is released fairly quickly from the hospital and returns home. He tries, cautiously, to enter back into his life, but he begins noticing strange jumps in time and a selective amnesia. Acquaintances tell them man that they don't know something because the man doesn't know it either. Things do not add up or make sense to the man and he knows he has to return to the hospital. He is still in the coma, and these episodes are his coma dreams.
"The Coma" is a short novel, with less than 200 pages. This brevity gives rise to added tension in the story as Garland is able to build the narrative in little chunks that feel like movie scenes. We feel the jumps in the narrative, these confusing dreams as the man tries to figure out what happened to him, where he is, and how to get back to life. We feel the man's confusion in not knowing what is a coma dream and what is reality. Garland's technique is very effective.
Reading "The Coma" is trying to decipher the man's memories and take the man's journey through his unconscious. In the coma dream something is real only if the man can remember it. There is no rhyme or reason to what he remembers and why he remembers what he does, but isn't that how memory? Alex Garland takes the reader on a eerie trip through a man's unconscious and coma ridden dreams, and in the process tells a very interesting (and slightly creepy) story.
Garland is the author of the novels "The Beach" and "The Tesseract" and also wrote the screenplay for the zombie horror film "28 Days Later." His fiction is something to be anticipated and thus far it has not disappointed, though it is never what is expected.