by Alex Garland
When he published The Beach in 1996 Alex Garland was described as 'a publishers' dream - clever, young and startlingly handsome'. His follow-up, The Tesseract (1998), was less successful, and The Coma isn't likely to win fans back. It starts well enough. The narrator, Carl, rescues a woman being harassed on the London underground and gets beaten into a coma by thugs. He appears to wake up and go home, but strange things occur, and it's obvious that he's still dreaming. He can't remember his real life and realises he has to discover his own identity to wake up. There's a Kafkaesque sense of alienation, which is enhanced by stark wood-block illustrations by his father, Nicholas Garland. But style and tone are all there is to this book. Garland tries to question what is real, but the conundrum has been scrutinised for centuries. The Coma adds nothing new.