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ALEX GARLAND The Coma
ALEX GA RLAND
Writer’s block can do some very strange things to its victim. For one thing, it prevents the author from putting sentences together - somewhat unfortunate when that’s their job; I suppose it’s a bit like a brickie running out of cement. Or bricks. Or the tool they use to put the cement between the bricks. A second, possibly more stressful downside is that the cosy advance you carefully brokered with your publisher could come under threat.
Both circumstances collided when Alex Garland was at Penguin and expectations were high over his follow-up to the cunnineg subtle and brutally macabre The Tesseract (enjoyed by the critics but largely ignored by the public) which itself was the follow-up to the cultbuster, The Beach (largely appreciated by the reviewers but absolutely gulped in handfuls by a slacker public who could relate to the travelling or simply hankered to get away from it all by proxy). Rumour has it that through either guilt or legality,
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MANY WILL FEEL OUTRAGE THAT HE'S TAKEN SO LONG TO COME UP WITH SOMETHING $0 SLIGHT
he sent a healthy cheque back to his publishing bosses when the block was at its height (maybe he asked his dad to write the address on the envelope).
Now, Garland is with Faber and absolutely hammering out his sentences; or at least enough to fill 160 pages of The Coma. Actually, this is a rough guesstimate, as page numbers are not included. But woodcuts from his father, the political cartoonist Nicholas Garland, are in there. The story concerns a man who is viciously attacked on the Tube late one night after work and tracks his temporary recovery, crushing breakdown and eventual struggle to get back on his feet again. Except it becomes unclear whether he has ever come out of the coma; is he remembering all these childhood memories from within his unconscious state? Or is he, in fact, dead and running through the miserable points of his time on earth from the great beyond?
Told in vivid, occasionally unfathomable detail from deep within our hero’s scarred mind, the tale is carried along its unseemly way by papa Garland’s art musings. All of which sounds like
absolutetotalwank. Yet, an odd thing occurs. As the brief chapters dip towards impenetrability, the cute woodcuts begin to take the story further and then take on menacing properties. If you want to be spooked some more, they’re on show at the Fine Art Society in London from the day of the book’s publication (one could even be yours for a mere £300). At 40 woodcuts, that’s a potentially lucrative pay day for the Garland clan. No doubt many will call foul on Garland’s third work (fourth, if you count his screenplay for 28 Days Later, which we don’t) and feel a sense of outrage that he has taken so long to come up with something which ultimately feels so slight, despite its inherent complexities. Perhaps the multilayered, many-sided beast that was The Tesseract took far more out of Garland than he may freely admit. Maybe the ravages of literary fame also caught him by surprise. Either way, he’s back with a story that confuses, amuses and may well warrant a second sitting. Though only if you can penetrate Garland’s beautifully cluttered mind. (Brian Donaldson) I szu/nb/o to buy for borrow on Thu I Jul
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