Here’s a book I haven’t read for a long time, not long after it was published in fact (a year or two). That being the case I’m not going to attempt to keep spoilers out of the review of a book that’s nearing 15 years old. Fair warning.
Girlfriend in a Coma is I suppose a ‘millenial’ novel, whatever that is. OK I know what it is, or what I mean by it. It’s a novel that came out as 2000 loomed and it deals with fears about the state of the world and the possible end of it.
It begins with a couple of 17 year-olds, Richard and Karen, who’ve just made love for the first time and are about to go to a party. It’s 1979 and Karen is about to go to sleep for a very very long time. She is the ‘girlfriend’ of the title.
The book is in three sections. The first deals with Karen going into a coma and it then tracks Richard and her other close friends through their lives for the next 17 years. The second section deals with the period from when Karen wakes up to an apocalypse of sorts. It’s a very gentle, serene apocalypse where people simply fall asleep and fail to wake up until Karen and her friends are the only ones left living. The final section of the book follows this group for a few weeks about a year later seeing how they’ve adapted to the end of the world.
I remember liking this book a lot when I read it in 1999/2000ish. I liked seeing how Richard’s life developed, how he aged during the 17 years of Karen’s coma. I also felt like Karen when she awoke had some interesting insights into how people were – how they were so proud of how efficient technology was but she didn’t feel things were better and that everyone had no time for anything but work. I tired a little of the post-apocalyptic stuff because it was a bit odd and I didn’t know what to make of it. But – this is how I recall it – it wasn’t overly long compared to the book as a whole.
Memory’s a funny thing. It’s been nearly as long since I read it since the gap between Karen going into her coma and awakening. Like Richard I looked back but wasn’t able to quite put myself into the mind of my former self.
Firstly I was surprised how short the first section was. I had remembered it as going on for most of the book but it’s a third if that. The bits of insight about growing older were there but they were literally the couple of clever sentences that I’d remembered anyway.
The second section also finished sooner than I remembered. The best parts of that were the dynamics of Karen awakening and the logistics of her getting to talk, walk and live again; the insights she had on seeing the new world appear as if, to her, overnight; and the setting up, playing out of the end of the world stuff.
Still when we reached the third section I couldn’t recall enough stuff to fill the 70-odd pages that remain, so this section did feel like it dragged more. I also realised that what I had taken as a basically realistic what-if type story that gets a bit weird towards the end, was always something of a parable and so some of the more sureal, fantastical elements fit into that.
I’m glad I re-read it, I didn’t enjoy it as much this time around but it was still worth the time.
7/10 – interesting and entertaining not to put you, or your girlfriend, into a coma.