Just Out of The Coma

*treads lightly*

*trying to find my footing*

*stumbles, gets up*

*starts over again*

Clearly, I’m feeling a little lost. Like I’m trying to relearn something that was familiar but feels so strange now. Which isn’t far from the truth, of course. Anyway, here goes.

Sometime when I was in high school, I read about Alex Garland’s The Coma in a magazine.  And, immediately added it to my mental to-read list. The basic plot goes something like this: it starts with the protagonist being attacked by a group of men, one night, following which he falls into a coma. The rest of the book is just him and his consciousness talking, trying to make sense of reality and dreams. I’m sure the magazine must have put it in a much more interesting way, but, well, you get the idea.

It took almost ten years for me to get hold of that book but I finally read it a few days ago. And absolutely loved it, by the way. But then, I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind. I can’t seem to take up another book because I’m still sort of stuck in The Coma. And I felt compelled to write about it, atleast as a way of closure if nothing else (I love books that do that to me!).

When I started off with the book, I remember wondering why it wasn’t made into a movie, considering it deals with a gripping subject. You know, with all the talk about conscious and subconscious, it could neatly fit into the same category as Stay, for instance. However, as I read on, I realized why it couldn’t (and shouldn’t) be a movie.

From the start till the end, all you know about the character is his name (Carl). You don’t know where he is from, what his profession is, what he looks like or even what the other people in the book look like! Much like in a dream, the places and situations just keep shifting constantly, leaving you feeling disoriented. And intrigued. This vague, hazy plot definitely couldn’t be a movie. And, even if it were made into one, it would make absolutely no sense (I’m still trying to understand the ending, in fact).

And. yet, I loved the book. Why? I really don’t know. The first thing that struck me as interesting was that the pages weren’t numbered. It may not seem like a big deal but then, it takes off the sense of order that page numbers could give (and that works perfectly for the dream-like sequences), adding to the confusion. Maybe I loved it because it’s so unconventional. Or, perhaps, because it makes sense and yet doesn’t. Because there’s no right or wrong by which you can judge what Carl goes through. And, because, in a lot of ways, it made me question my own perceptions of reality, consciousness and life. So much so that, at a certain point, I looked up from the book, glanced around and wondered if the place and situation I was in were real or a dream (not kidding!).

If I had to pick out a favourite part (like I always do at the end of a book-rant), it would be this one, where Carl sums up how we’re all basically consciousnesses in a void:

“..if I were to lose an arm in an accident, I’d still be me. They wouldn’t say, he used to be Carl, then he lost an arm, now he’s John.

And, if, in another accident, I lost the other arm, the same would be true. Likewise with my legs, my sight, my hearing, my speech, my sense of touch. You could keep going, keep stripping me down, until I was only a consciousness, suspended in a void.

But, take away the consciousness, and suddenly I’m gone. Carl is no more. And take away the consciousness but leave the body, leave the full complement of arms and legs, and I’m still gone.”

PS: I found this interestingly similar review online – Consciousness in the void – Business Standard