Word and image
Word and image

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Word and image

3.3 Conveying emotion

Other uses of images in fiction seem to function at the level of connotation rather than denotation: they add affective meaning but don't seem to have an explicitly narrative function. The Coma, by Alex Garland (2004), tells the story of a man who is beaten unconscious on a late-night train, and is hospitalised as a result. As he describes waking up from his comatose state in the hospital, talking to the doctors and returning home, it gradually becomes apparent that he has not recovered at all, but is ‘dreaming’, or at least only semi-conscious. He remembers very little about himself, and events are described in a disconnected, ‘other-worldly’ way. The Coma contains a series of woodcuts (see Figure 10) produced by the author's father, Nicholas Garland (a political cartoonist for the British newspaper, The Daily Telegraph).

Figure 10
Figure 10 Woodcut from The Coma (Garland, 2004).

The woodcuts in this course are instrumental in conveying a sense of the threatening, alienating world that the narrator inhabits. All the monochrome images are dark (in every sense); the large black shapes of the policemen and doctors loom over the man in hospital, but we never see their faces and nor does the comatose man. The result is a distancing, an ability only to see outlines and shadows, which take on the character of vague, unspecified threats. This is reflected in the story where we learn something of what is going on inside the man's head. He cannot grasp what has happened to him, nor whether he is dead or alive, asleep or awake. In an interview in the British newspaper the Observer, the author Alex Garland commented on the links between the images and writing in this book:

I think the way [my father] does woodcuts and linocuts very much influenced the way I write prose. I mean the heavy emphasis on craft with the aim of making things simple, hopefully deceptively so.

(Adams, 2004)

The connotations of such images affect us as readers and influence our reading experience. Their significance can sometimes be better understood by imagining the image differently: a different kind of image, perhaps also literally showing a different visual viewpoint, would produce a different meaning entirely.

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