Thursday, March 24, 2011

Friday's Forgotten Books: Coma by Robin Cook

Coma by Robin Cook Signet 1977

This book was huge when it first came out. I read it when I was in my teens and loved it. It was probably the first medical thriller I've ever read. I saw the movie when it was released staring Michael Douglas (love those books to movies), and back then it was pretty scary. Probably that was due in large part to my youth. Everything is scarier when you're a kid.

The premise of this book is wicked; going into the hospital for routine surgery and never waking up from the anesthetic. I think that appeals to everyone's basic fears about surgery. Who has never considered that possibility, as rare as it might be? The idea of it is terrifying. To me, going under anesthetic is something akin to falling backwards off of a roof and trusting the guy on the ground who says he's going to catch you, really will.

In this story, a young medical student, Susan Wheeler, becomes concerned with the high numbers of patients mysteriously slipping into comas at the hospital where she works and ending up brain dead. And on her own she begins to investigate the cause.

While I did enjoy this book both when I first read it, and now again having re-read it, I had a couple of minor issues with it. Reading it now, I found the writing style a bit stilted and long winded. But once I adjusted myself to it, and accepted that this is how it was written, I was able to get over it and immerse myself fully in the story. Secondly, it might be that fact that Robin Cook is a man writing a female character, or it could be the era it was written in (1970s), but the fact that his heroine Susan Wheeler, has doubts about her own femininity and is questioning whether she is a woman or not because of her chosen profession, was annoying, even slightly offensive. How the hell would her being a doctor not make her a woman?

But the 70s was a time when the women's movement was in full swing and women were joining the workforce in droves, discarding their own mother's ideals of womanhood (the ultimate goal of being a wife and mother) in favour of their professional and sexual freedom. So, I think there may have been some ambiguity about what constituted femininity or what it meant to be a woman when the roles of women were changing so dramatically. Perhaps this is what Robin Cook was trying to say. I don't know. It really is another topic entirely.

Regardless, the character of Susan Wheeler, comes across as a strong self-empowered female who is not afraid to search for the truth in spite of the risks she faces. Got to love those brave females. Not the ones who go outside with a flashlight in the middle of the night, usually in a nightgown, searching for the source of mysterious noise. That's just foolish. Me, I'd stay inside with the phone and a big sharp knife. Fortunately Susan Wheeler balances the brave/foolish thing quite well.

I think I loved Coma just as much as the first time I read it. It's a nightmarish trip into the heart of our deepest fears about "going under" that doesn't dissapoint.

Read more of Friday's Forgotten books at Patti Abbott's blog:


  1. One of the scariest books (and movies) ever!

  2. I recall the movie pretty vividly as a kid, never read the book; however I seem to recall seeing it everywhere back then, big bestseller as it was.