Warning: Spoilers follow
The first part of the book covers the next 17 years in the lives of the friends. Richard has to cope with losing Karen but gaining a daughter (Megan), as fatherhood is thrust upon him: the outcome of their mutual loss of virginity just hours before Karen fell into her coma. Wendy throws herself into work and Linus loses himself, looking for that which is lost. Pamela becomes a supermodel and Hamilton, a demolition expert, but none of the friends lives turn out how they imagined. Broken and lacking, they return to the suburbs of their youth to try to pull themselves together until one day, almost two decades after she fell asleep, Karen regains consciousness.
The middle section of the book deals with Karen's return to the world. It also begins, as Karen remembers, to explain where she had been all those years and the reality she had hoped to escape. Then, suddenly, the future is upon her, upon them all, and the world ends.
The final part of the book details life after this end: after everyone, bar these seven people, has fallen asleep and not woken up again.
This short description far from does the book justice. It is one of Coupland's finest novels, focusing on a stronger narrative than some of his earlier book but still providing enough detail to make you really think.
In the UK, the Guardian newspaper described this book as Coupland "becoming extraordinary" (25 April 1998) and The Times (London) as "a disturbing, thought- provoking and moving novel … Girlfriend in a Coma has something of the quality of a fairytale … but it contains a sharp realism that makes the book scarily contemporary" (15 May 1999).
Girlfriend in a Coma is a song by The Smiths and the origin of the title of Coupland's novel. It was also covered by Mojo Nixon, who used the song to make fun of the Smiths' singer Morrissey.