Three men who could read the phone book and I’d ask for an encore: Jeremy Irons (heard him read Lolita and Brideshead Revisited – did you know there’s a Facebook fan club called Jeremy Irons’ Voice?), Matthew Macfadyen (I get goose bumps every time I listen to him read Yeats’ “When you are old”) and, my shameful secret, Vin Diesel.

So it might have something to do with Macfadyen’s voice the reason the audiobook of “The Coma” is the best book of the year so far, but to be fair, it probably just helped Garland’s interesting (and creepy) story. Why doesn’t he do more audiobooks? He’s clearly good at it, and if I can humbly recommend somewhere to start, I think Kazuo Ishiguro’s melancholic prose in “The Remains of the Day” might suit him very well.

Talking about Ishiguro, I was 5 minutes into “The Coma” and stated to fear that it would be another “The Unconsoled”, probably the most disturbing novel I’ve even read. It’s not bad, after all, it takes a great writer to blur the borders of reality and nightmare like that, but I still get anxious when I think about it. After doing some research, I was glad to find that the connection I made between these two novels wasn’t that random. In an interview with The Guardian, Alex Garland said about “The Coma”: “Tonally, you’d have definitely read it before. If you’ve read Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled that has an element of it, too. I spent a lot of time wondering why dreams are so tricky in a narrative.

This is a very short book, about 200 pages/2 hours, and the story goes like this: a lonely man on a subway carriage watches a group tugs trying to steal a young woman’s purse. When he tries to intervened he gets beaten unconscious. This man (we never know his name) wakes up in the hospital but is soon allowed to return home.

He tries to go back to his routine, but soon realizes that something is wrong – he doesn’t remember important things about his life and experiences unexplained gaps in time. He tests his friends by asking them about things him that he doesn’t know himself… and they also don’t know either. When he decides to return to the hospital he understands: he’s in a coma and now needs to figure out how he can help himself to wake up.

The book not only reminded me “The Unconsoled” but also of what might be my favorite movie of all times: Eternal Sunshine Of the Spotless Mind, where Patrick also tries to trick his own mind while unconscious.

In this story the narrative is not important, even though it’s a speedy plot, because what matters is the reading experience. The language is simple, almost Kafkian, and extremely graphic. Garland goes to great pains to get you to feel exactly what the man is experiencing and it works very well. There’s this scene where he loses him mind and… well, it’s hard to explain (you’d have to be there to know :)), except to say that it’s scary and sadistically funny at the same time. I found it extremely refreshing to read a book about a dream/semi-conscious state where the language is not vague and blurry:

Formulation: You wake, you die. The reason is this. Everybody dreams. Everybody dreams, but nobody has ever managed to tell me what their dream was like. Not so that I really understand what they saw or felt. Every dream that anyone ever has is theirs alone and they never manage to share it. And they never manage to remember it either. Not truly or accurately. Not as it was. Our memories and our vocabularies aren’t up to the job. You wake, you die. The formulation is correct. When you wake, you lose a narrative, and you never get it back.

If you haven’t read “The Coma” yet, give Alex Garland this opportunity to be appreciate for something other than every backpacker’s fantasies. He did a great job of jumping from real travelling to this man’s journey through his unconscious.