Notes from a Coma by Mike McCormack

Title: Notes from a Coma
Author: Mike McCormack
Publisher: Soho Press
Expected Release: March 5, 2013
Source: publisher (NetGalley)


JJ O’Malley, adopted from a Romanian orphanage by a single father in the west of Ireland, grows up a permanent outsider, and yet he finds his place in the community. At least until his world is shaken by the death of his best friend, and he volunteers for the “Somnos Project,” an experimental program testing deep coma as a potential option in the EU penal system.

In a prison ship docked in Killary Harbour, JJ is hooked up to monitoring devices that feed out to the Internet, and he and his fellow guinea pigs become global celebrities. A beautifully rendered look at small-town Irish life, and a far-reaching investigation of politics, neuroscience, global communications, and the ethics of incarceration, Notes from a Coma is a major work from one of the world’s bravest and most unusual novelists.

Like well-crafted counterpoint, Mike McCormack’s Notes from a Coma is made up of independent, yet interdependent, parts. Two parts, in this case. The first is the “beautifully rendered look at small-town Irish life” and the life of JJ O’Malley, told in five voices, each of whom is being interviewed by an unknown person. Here the text flows naturally and comfortably. The second part occurs in the footnotes (which are long, often 4-6 pages!). There lies a deeply cerebral exploration of the history, ethics, and various implications of the Somnos project. It was a challenge to switch back and forth between the easy tone and style of the main text and the difficult passages that make up the footnotes. This duality was certainly a unique way of reading and took some getting used to; it also highlighted McCormack’s versatility and skill as a writer.

Thinking about the book as a whole, I feel the title “Notes from a Coma” is very poignant. The word “coma” ended up having a deeper meaning than I first considered…

I felt the book ended much too soon. What were JJ’s experiences during those 3 months? What was the general population privy to that raised the Somnos volunteers to such celebrity status? Brief moments would pique my curiosity, but then never develop. That was a little disappointing. I suppose these things were simply left up to the imagination, but I enjoyed McCormack’s writing style so much I wanted to read those details.

I did expect more science fiction. Coma patients hooked up and feeding out to the Internet?! That has so many possibilities! It’s the type of sci-fi I get excited about reading. But this isn’t that type of novel. There are hints of science fiction, but ultimately this is a great work of literary/psychological fiction. It is well worth the read.

Notes from a Coma will be released here in the States on March 5, 2013 by Soho Press.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive any other compensation for this review.

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