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.