A medical fact: after six days of absolute sleep deprivation, psychosis sets in. After four weeks, the body dies. And so begins Adrian Barnes’ incredibly luring novel, Nod. As dawn breaks over Vancouver no one in the world has slept the night before. Or almost no one. A few people, perhaps one in ten thousand can still sleep, and they’ve all shared the same mysterious dream. As sleep deprivation and psychosis sets in, global panic ensues. A bizarre and dangerous new world arises and swallows the old one whole. A world called Nod.
I was utterly captivated by this concept of an insomnia epidemic, having never read anything along this line before, and Adrian Barnes successfully delivered a very captivating dystopian novel. But be aware that this novel is definitely more literary than sci-fi/fantasy, as the narrator, a self-confessed misanthrope and writer, Paul, logs a timeline narrative rich with religious, ethic and philosophical dichotomies.
The ending initially threw me as a lot of the mysterious are essentially left unravelled, however when I took a step back and reflected on the novel I found myself I awe of Barnes’ talent. I was left with so many unanswered questions that I missed the point where I had become one of the characters who had no idea what was going on and why this was happening. However the author also raises some very interesting concepts and questions surrounding human nature, its relationship with catastrophe and chaos, manipulation and leadership.
Overall, why parts of this novel may seem frustrating for a lot of readers, as I was at first, if you read this book with a mindset of what I’ve mentioned then underneath the slightly disappointing story of destruction and breakdown of civilisation there lies a much richer, cleverer and interesting narrative.
The book ends with an acclaimed essay by the author, My Cancer is as Strange as my Fiction, in which the author shares moments from his diagnosis of cancer. Written around the same time Nod was published, Barnes draws on a lot of parallels between what happened to him during his treatment and issues addressed in the book. Knowing that the author didn’t know that a year after writing Nod that his life would take a turn that throws these issues into such a sharp focus gives Nod a terrifyingly realistic tone.
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