Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Notes from a Coma” as Want to Read:
Notes from a Coma
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Notes from a Coma

3.46  ·  Rating details ·  283 ratings  ·  55 reviews
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
Paperback, 199 pages
Published March 5th 2013 by Soho Press (first published 2005)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Notes from a Coma, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Notes from a Coma

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
3.46  · 
Rating details
 ·  283 ratings  ·  55 reviews

Sort order
Jan 06, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: first-reads
I loved the plot of this book but it just didn't come together. The synopsis on the back is totally misleading. THAT'S the book I wanted to read. The book was like an interview of friends and family of the main character but you were never properly introduced to HIM.

I loved the writing style of the author, minus the distracting footnotes that would've been better served as the main focus of the novel. I'd probably read something else by McCormack.

I received this book for free in exchange for an
Dec 30, 2012 rated it did not like it
Two stories in one - the life of a young man (dark) and his participation in a governmental experiment. The story of JJ's life is a fast read; the footnotes of the coma (the experiment) impossible to read- philosophical, academic, psychological, political babble. If you do decide to read this book, read the story, then go back and read the footnotes.
Feb 26, 2013 rated it it was ok
Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book at ALA Midwinter 2013. All quotes are based on an uncorrected text.

By all accounts, JJ O’Malley is a somewhat unusual young man. Adopted from a Romanian orphanage by an old Irish bachelor, and taken back to County Mayo, Ireland, JJ is raised there, and grows up to show a prodigious intellect. But in some respects, JJ is too smart for his own good, and his mind seems to eat at itself, spinning endlessly through impossible questions and conjec
Feb 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
This is a very peculiar book. The story is told in two different parts, that seem independent, but that complement each other. The main story is narrated in the “main” body of the book, by the perspective of the characters, and the secondary story is narrated on footnotes. This is the very first book that I read with this structure, and I must say that it exceeded by far my expectations.
The author was unknown to me, so I didn’t know what to expect from the book, but I must say that I was pleasan
Nicola Mansfield
Jul 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Astounding! Just loved it! First off though it was not what I had originally thought it would be. I was under the impression it was some sort of science fiction dystopia about prisoners being put into comas. It's not. The book takes place in a present day Ireland, if not exactly *the* present day Ireland; the author takes liberties to make his reality work. The writing is not linear and this will put some readers off but this format of telling a story from the points of view of a group of altern ...more
Feb 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
Notes From a Coma is a fascinating, complex, and utterly amazing book. Set in an Ireland that is present day (or close to it) but slightly altered, it tells the story of JJ O'Malley- he is a super-intelligent, and densely layered young man. This break comes in the form of him volunteering for an experimental prison concept, which aims to put convicts into deep coma for some portion of their sentence. While it is known he is completely innocent, JJ volunteers as a control and has complex reasons ...more
Sep 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I pretty much read this in one go. Superb writing. I just wanted to know more about the actual experiment. So many unanswered questions about it and what happened next.
Jan 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: default
It had been a while since I read a book that inspired me as much as Ursula K LeGuin's "Left hand of Darkness"; until, that is, I read "Notes from a Coma". This layered and textured narrative about one lad's journey through love and loss to absolution was by turns funny and heart-wrenching. Like the Irish people he represents, it captures the surface cheer and underlying sorrow of JJ O'Malley; a character never heard from directly, but seen through the eyes of the people in his life. The most won ...more
Kevin Tole
The quality of this review has much to do with Firefox' ability to present a stable platform. Having written a long review it became lost to the ether when Crash City occurred.

So here's the skinny.

3 star - nearer three than four.

A hell of an undertaking for a slim book.

Stylistically difficult - footnotes presenting another line to the text - a further subtext - which examines other attributes and develops questions and issues raised by the text. These become intrusive - or extrusive! one might
Jun 10, 2017 rated it liked it
Enjoyable. I've rarely read an author more adept at providing a unique voice to each of their characters. I had expected the novel to revolve around the Somnos experiment, but instead it was a character-driven tale focused on the small Irish community where one of the volunteers grew up. Other than the footnotes, the entire story recalls the years before the experiment began. The long, meandering footnotes, written in a style to contrast the folksy narrative, were fun, though the author occasion ...more
Jan 31, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed the plot of this book. The storyline enticed me, but I wish that the footnotes were instead sections within the book, or just within the text itself. I didn’t really lose my spot all too often, but the readability of the main text in combination with the scientific language of the footnotes definitely frustrated me at times. I also would have been more interested in learning more about the coma research and process earlier on, as leaving it towards the end of the book felt sligh ...more
Ciaran Finnegan
Jul 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Exceptional. It’s a more subtle commentary on Ireland than Donal Ryan’s works, but also completely absorbing, clever, and challenging. The ‘sci-fi’ label is a bit of a misnomer, as ‘sci-fi’ as 1984 but on a much more compact and human scale.
Frances Wilde
Jun 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
The ending was a bit anticlimactic but I loved the five different narrators! And the believable building of a character whose intelligence and self-awareness was his downfall
David Rice
Aug 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Somber, intense, thought-provoking .. both a provocative novel of ideas and an intimate character study.
Christine O'Hara
Jan 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
I don't know what to think....

Except that the author is much more intelligent than me.
Parallel Worlds
Sep 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
Intended Audience: Adult

Sexual content: Mild

Ace/Genderqueer characters: None

Rating: PG-13 for language

Writing style: 3/5

Likable characters: 4/5

Plot/Concepts: 4/5

A new experiment is being set up in the EU to test how medically-induced comas might benefit the prison system, but first an innocent person must volunteer as the control. J.J. O’Malley needs to spend some time away from his own overactive mind, and three months of unconsciousness via the Somnos project seems like the perfect fit.
I picke
Sam Sattler
Mike McCormack’s Notes from a Coma made quite a splash in Ireland when it was published there in 2005, receiving such a good reception from readers and critics that it was shortlisted in 2006 for the Irish Book of the Year award. Now it makes its American debut as a Soho Paperback Original.

The book has a strange feel to it. Because it was written eight years ago, it is set in the recent past – but with just enough spin on that past to give the story a bit of a surrealistic science fiction feel.
Feb 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Apr 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I feel like this is a novel I'll have to return to more than once to properly and completely grasp everything. It's one that doesn't have a lot of action, but it could be said that a lot actually happens. The 'a lot that actually happens' is relayed through the individual stories of different characters connected to the person of interest, JJ.

JJ is a brilliant individual and while his brilliance does come across in the novel, so does his difficult personality. He is self-absorbed, due perhaps t
Feb 12, 2013 rated it liked it
Notes from a Coma has a good story in its basis, which grabs and moves, but somehow gets lost on the way. The main character, JJ, is a fascinating young man, a thinking man in a world of hard-working, simple folk, who is nevertheless accepted, tolerated and loved by his adopting father and community despite his differences and quirks. He is obsessed by interesting ideas and sometimes acts upon them, even if this takes him over the edge sometimes. His relationship with his friend-brother Owen is ...more
Jul 07, 2013 rated it liked it
Mike McCormack's Notes From a Coma was first published in the UK by Jonathan Cape in 2005.

This newly reprinted edition by American publisher Soho Press has a cover adorned in lavish praise: "The greatest Irish novel of the decade" (Irish Times); "The next step in Irish fiction...visionary" (author David Means); and "The finest book yet from one of Ireland's most singular contemporary writers" (author Matt Bell).

Any wonder I was itching to read it?

At its simplest level Notes From a Coma is the ta
Jan 30, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
Remember the scene from "(500) Days of Summer" with Tom's expectations and reality playing simultaneously? I keep thinking of that scene as I try to put together how I feel about Mike McCormack's Notes from a Coma. If my expectations for the novel were playing on one side, they would be an almost sci-fi look at the use of deep coma for incarceration, with a focus on J.J., who volunteers for the project. However, in reality, Notes from a Coma centers almost entirely on J.J.'s life leading up to h ...more
Debbie "DJ"
Dec 30, 2012 rated it liked it

I really don't know what to say about this book. Is is definitely one of the strangest I have read. The book has a general story at the top, and below like footnotes we are gaining knowledge of some "SOMAS" project in very convoluted language. I wished the author could have put these "footnotes" into the main text as it was frustrating to move ahead in the book reading the bottom part, then going back to where I was on the top part.

The book did keep me interested as the main character has a min
Denisa Howe
Feb 24, 2013 rated it liked it
This book was intriguing. The main character JJ is one that I simply loved. He was adopted and although he is eccentric in thought and mannerism, he seems to be accepted in his society. He volunteers for a project which shows his eccentric actions even more. The others in this project are criminals which JJ is not. The project is to deep induced coma. I loved the characters and even how JJ said very little in the actual book. The reader’s knowledge came from other people connected to him and mem ...more
Jan 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: net-galley
The book tells the story of JJ's life from alternating view points of the people in his life. Then it also has footnotes that add information about the coma project, it's science and the way the public reacted to it. I enjoyed all of the different voices telling JJ's story. I thought he was a deeply compelling character and his outlook on life was fascinating. The "notes from a coma" are really just the footnotes, because that is the only information you really get about his time in the coma. I ...more
Jan 13, 2013 rated it liked it
Fascinating. JJ O'Malley, a young man adopted as a baby from a Romanian orphanage by a single Irish man, takes part in an experiment that involves being put in a coma for three months. The book takes us through the events that led him to volunteer for the study, told from the perspectives of JJ and several people close to him.

The story explores JJ's struggle with his identity and with his extraordinary intelligence and the effects of those challenges on his relationships with family and friends
Jul 21, 2014 rated it liked it
A Brave New World crossed with Reality TV, which places it half-way between brilliant and insipid. McCormack seems to be mocking modern culture and philosophical pretentiousness at the same time, which is not hard to do, but very hard to do well. The footnotes alone are maddening, a kind of academic frosting that adds little sweetness and marginal decoration. What saves the book are the characters, who are real and heart felt and drawn very well.

McCormack opens the book with epigraphs from Kafk
Daisy Dardon
Feb 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
*won through Goodreads giveaway*
This book is very peculiar. Hard to read at times, especially with the footnotes which could be a bit distracting but at the same time helpful, as it gives insight to the SOMNOS project. It's one of those books which you have to read more then once in order to fully grasp everything that is being said. The novel is told through different character's POV which each give a different perspective and accounts to who JJ O'Malley is, who is a very interesting character.
Feb 02, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: 40-in-2013
I won this through Goodreads. There were parts of it I really liked - Some great narrative passages as well as an interesting concept to begin with. There are footnotes throughout that essentially tell a second (but ultimately intertwined) storyline, which I thought was an interesting technique, but also proved overwhelming at times. As a reader, I would have appreciated shorter footnotes until I got used to the format. I also am unsure how I feel about the ending - no spoilers, but I just wasn' ...more
May 29, 2013 rated it liked it
McCormack deftly handles the different voices of people who all love the brilliant and troubled J.J. After a personal tragedy, he crumbles apart and his lovingly helped somewhat back together again by family and friends. Just as he is about humpty dumptyed back together again he decides to volunteer for a coma experiment. McCormack kept a lean story here and that is part of its strength. I also found the bizarre footnotes interesting. Or were they interesting footnotes and I found them bizarre. ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Border Crossings: Coming of Age in the Czech Resistance
  • David's Inferno: My Journey through the Dark Wood of Depression
  • Shadows of the Rose
  • The Storykeepers
  • Shadows of the Hidden
  • The Nightmare Collection (Nightmare, #1-2)
  • Black Helicopters
  • Chasing the Witch (Boston Witches, #2)
  • The Complete Knifepoint Horror
  • Apology
  • Thursday 1:17 p.m.
  • If the Shoe Fits, Go Barefoot
  • You Know What You Have to Do
  • Chameleon (The Ravensmoore Chronicles #2)
  • Pale Horses (Jade de Jong, #4)
  • Everyone Says That at the End of the World
  • The Deadwood Stage (Sherlock Holmes & Young Winston #1)
  • Every Boy Should Have a Man
“I've told you before I'm not guilty of anything; I'm just guilty, that's all.” 6 likes
“What no tourist bumf will tell you is that this inlet is suffused with an atmosphere of ineffable sadness. Partly a trick of the light and climatic factors, partly also the lingering residue of an historical tragedy which still resonates through rock and water down seven generations of fretful commemorative attempts and dissonant historical hermeneutics. Now think of grey shading towards gunmetal across an achromatic spectrum; think also of turbid cumulus clouds pouring down five centimeters of rainfall above the national average and you have some idea of the light reflected within the walls of this inlet. This is the type of light which lends itself to vitamin D deficiency, baseline serotonin levels, spluttering neurotransmitters and mild but by no means notional depression. It is the type of light wherein ghosts go their rounds at all hours of the day.” 1 likes
More quotes…