Nod by Adrian Barnes

A review of the apocalyptic science fiction crossover novel Nod by Adrian Barnes.

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Welcome to Nod – a new and unpredictable version of the world we know, falling into chaos at a devastating rate due to the quick deterioration of the bulk of the population.

The Awakened is the appointed name for those who cannot manage sleep and have decided, rather optimistically, that they are better off for it. Sleepers are the small percentage of the world’s population who are still able to sleep and share the same wondrous and addictive golden dream. There are also Sleeper children who seem strangely at ease with the new state of their world. They live together in packs in the forest, slowly starving from lack of food and care, and are hunted by members of the Awakened who believe, in their deliriously tired and resentful states, that the children are demons.

Nod is set in Vancouver, where Paul – our rather pessimistic Sleeper protagonist – tells the story from his first-person perspective. He’s a writer and is currently working on his own book called Nod, in which he explains the true meanings of phrases that have either been twisted over time, or been lost entirely. Nod is one such word, being that in the book of Genesis it is described as the place Cain dwelt after killing his brother and leaving God’s Eden. Nowadays, it has somewhat lost its true meaning and is the place parents encourage their children to go to each night when they fall asleep.

Paul is wonderfully cynical, a non-people person who isn’t too shocked by either this global dilemma or the scenes of insanity it causes, since he believes it to have been there the whole time – something humans have always been very capable of – boiling up under the surface of good manners and laws. People just needed an excuse to let their crazy out, and this story, Nod, has given them just such opportunity.

It was a comfortable, familiar apocalypse, something I’d seen rehearsed in a hundred or more big budget movies: burned cars, ragged curtains fluttering through broken windows.

The humorous dry wit of the protagonist in light of such dire events is what, for me, drove the story forward and kept me reading. There are some quite horrific moments which, without the desensitisation of Paul and his lack of shock in the face of inhumanity, I’m not sure I would have been able to have stomached.

Paul and Charles are two of three lead characters of this story, with the third being Tanya, Paul’s outspoken and successful girlfriend. With Tanya unable to sleep, the varying stages of sleep deprivation are mainly depicted to the reader through her relationship with Paul and her colourful display of emotions, from confusion and denial to rage and desperation, and her growing envy of Sleepers, from resentment right through to disgust. Her gradual demise is the anchor holding the bizarre story of Nod together, keeping a timeline for the reader to cling onto through the terror and Chaos on the pages.

One aspect I love of these types of stories – where a mass global event or phenomenon has negatively impacted upon life as we know it – is the role reversal of characters; seeing how the people whose trades and skills were deemed unworthy in the old world can thrive in the new one. We meet Charles very early in the story, an unemployed homeless man who wasn’t able to make anything of himself in the old world. Now though, among the delusional and sleep deprived, Charles has monopolised on the situation and become the leader of a cult collective of Awakened.

Each new chapter in this book begins with a lost or misunderstood phrase from Paul’s work, accompanied by an explanation of its true meaning. I soon discovered that each of these phrases had a strong relevance to the coming chapter – something that created much intrigue and anxiety due to the grim nature of some of the explanations.

Nod could be categorised with stories such as The Stand by Stephen King, or Tom Perrotta’s The Leftovers, but I really do feel Nod should have a category all of its own. The writer of this story, Adrian Barnes, hasn’t played anything safe and seems as though he first and foremost wrote Nod for himself, without giving too much thought to desired readership or book sales or likeability of main characters. It is this brazenness that makes Nod such a raw, honest and brutally brilliant read.

Rebecca Delphine is an aspiring Young Adult author from Thanet.

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