Coma – Alex Garland

Has Alex Garland got over his rumoured writer’s block? Well, Coma doesn’t really suggest so. Released without media fanfare, it’s a short story trying to disguise itself as a novella.

There are no page numbers and each chapter is buttressed with blank pages. If that doesn’t shout desperation, he gets his dad to thicken it out with 40 woodcuts (Alex’s father, Nicholas Garland is The Daily Telegraph’s political cartoonist). Most of the ‘chapters’ are little more than a page in length and yet it’s retailing for ten quid. All that would be forgivable if the story measured up. It doesn’t even begin to.

Treading a similar theme to his African based short story in the Weekenders anthology (RSS), Coma deals with the borderlands of consciousness in a recovering coma victim. Garland’s graphic description of a horrific beating by thugs in an underground train sets a vivid scene. Then he lets it slip. The reader is left to sieve through dreams and consciousness and ends up in an untidy grey area between the two.

Following the trouble in paradise tale of The Beach and the three story weave of The Tesseract, he’s written the screenplay for 28 Days Later (a film I’ve watched three times and fallen asleep in almost precisely the same place) and now adds the disappointment of Coma.

Based on the descriptions of people and locations in those initial two novels I’ve often thought Garland would make a decent travel writer and his ad-hoc journalistic forays suggest he would be well suited. As a novelist, his powers appear to be waning.