Notes from a Coma

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Overview

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 ...

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Notes from a Coma

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Perpetually luckless Irishman JJ O'Malley unexpectedly becomes an international celebrity when he volunteers for the "Somnos Project", a "penal experiment" to conduct research on the use of "deep coma as a future option in the EU prison system." O'Malley, since he lacks a prison record, serves as the experiment's control, joining four convicted men hooked up to monitors on a ship docked in the harbor of Killary in western Ireland, an inlet "suffused with ineffable sadness." Irish novelist McCormack (Getting it in the Head) employs the perspectives of five pivotal characters to recount O'Malley's life. An adoptee raised by a single father in rural Ireland, he's potentially a genius, yet sees himself untethered in the universe. After a tragic incident, O'Malley volunteers for the project and his loved ones struggle to understand his decision and the events that led to it. McCormack's substantial footnotes run in parallel to the narrative, serving as a primer on the nature of the experiment and helping progress the story in the present while the characters' accounts shed light on the subject's past. Subtle but haunting storytelling mixes with an insightful examination into the ethics of the penal system to produce an unusual and unforgettable read. (Mar.)
From the Publisher
Praise for Notes from a Coma

"A cross between 1984 and The X-Files.... Notes From a Coma establishes McCormack as one of the most original and important voices in contemporary Irish fiction.”
Irish Times (original review)
 
"The greatest Irish novel of the decade just ended."
Irish Times
 
"McCormack's language is lovely, lyrical...his humor is dark, macabre; the words glimmer like a spell."
Time Out

“The testimony about JJ's life is written with a sad and touching simplicity.... Intriguing.”
Wall Street Journal

“Subtle but haunting storytelling mixes with an insightful examination into the ethics of the penal system to produce an unusual and unforgettable read.”
Publishers Weekly, STARRED Review

“A major talent in Irish fiction.....McCormack slyly and brilliantly satirizes, among many other things, our fixations with celebrity and high-priced medical technology.”
Booklist

“Additional events and commentary take place literarily underneath these chapters in long footnotes.... [They underscore] how unique and noteworthy this unusual novel truly is — and why McCormack undeniably deserves a wider audience on this side of the globe.”
─Bookgasm

“An intriguing novel that touches on many of the moral and ethical questions of the day. Mike McCormack is one to watch.” 
Book Chase

“A great work of literary/psychological fiction...well worth the read.”
─A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall

“Are you ready for something mind-bending, something intelligent, introspective, and quintessentially Irish? Five men volunteer to enter a comatose state to test a new idea for incarceration of criminals. The novel makes a subtle statement on today’s politics, spirituality, and even celebrity worship.”
—Mary T. of R.J. Julia Booksellers
 
"Compelling....A story of politics, psychology, metaphysics, and family that defies easy classification."
Required Reading

Praise for Mike McCormack

"McCormack's obsessions at times converge with those explored by Ian McEwan, Will Self and J. G. Ballard, but his clever ideas and fluid, gracefully morbid style are all his own."
GQ
 
"When venturing into the realm of the macabre, a writer gains a distinct advantage if he has a sense of discipline and a sense of humor ... Mike McCormack has both to spare.... Like parables in their easy transcendence of setting and time, the most audacious stories are classics."
The New York Times Book Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781616952327
  • Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 3/5/2013
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 519,201
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Mike McCormack has published a collection of short stories, Getting It In the Head, and a novel, Crowe's Requiem. In 1996, McCormack was awarded the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature. In 1998, Getting it in the Head was voted a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. A story from the collection, "The Terms," was adapted into an award-winning short film.

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Read an Excerpt

Rescued from the squalor of a Romanian orphanage, and adopted by the rural community of west Mayo, J. J. O'Malley should have grown up happy. The boy has no gift for it, though, and his new life has a brutal way of giving him plenty to be unhappy about. After a sudden tragedy, J. J. suffers a catastrophic mental breakdown. Unable to live with himself, he volunteers for an improbable government project which has been set up to explore the possibility of using deep coma as a future option within the EU penal system. When his coma goes online the nation turns to watch, and J. J. is quickly elevated to the status of cultural icon. Sex symbol, existential hero, T-shirt philosopher─his public profile now threatens to obscure the man himself behind a swirl of media profiles, online polls, and EEG tracings.
 
Five narrators─his father, neighbour, teacher, public representative, and sweetheart─tell us the true story of his life and try to give some clue as to why he is the way he is now: floating in a maintained coma on a prison ship off the west coast of Ireland. Brilliantly imagined and artfully constructed─merging science fiction with an affectionate portrait of small town Ireland─Notes from a Coma is both the story of a man cursed with guilt and genius and a compassionate examination of how our identities are safeguarded and held in trust by those who love us.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 22, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Like well-crafted counterpoint, Mike McCormack's Notes from a Co

    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.

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