Category: High score

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: Review

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: Review

I’m not sure how many people I have actually recommended this book to – I know that half of them don’t necessarily take it seriously, or they’ll think it’s a good idea to read it but then forget about it all over again, but I just can’t stop talking about it. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck is the first book I’ve read in what I guess would be considered the ‘self help’ genre – but it was nothing like what I expected ‘self help’ books and guides to be like, and I think that’s why it struck such a chord with me.

The Subtle Art, written by blogger Mark Manson, calls itself a ‘counter-intuitive approach to living a good life’, and this is exactly what it is (with the emphasis being on the counter-intuitive part). I’m not afraid, this time, to share ‘spoilers’ from the book because I’m hoping these will give an insight and overview to the book that you don’t get from the blurb – and if you kinda know what it’s about, you’ll know whether it’s worth a read for yourself or not. My wish is the former; I think everyone should read it.

The book’s overlying message (it seems to me) is that we, as people, really need to get our priorities straight. Not in terms of what society’s expectations for us are – because everyone knows there are an insurmountable number of those – but that we should try harder to change our attitudes and expectations towards ourselves, and focus on achieving attainable, personal goals. It’s kinda the same thing you hear in a lot of movies, no matter what the genre; the things that are important are close family, friends, human relationships and small comforts (which Manson sees as ‘internal’ goals, good ones) and not wealth, fame, glory or the everlasting freedom to travel the globe (‘external’ goals, bad ones).

As a recent graduate, it was a great thing to read. I was actually introduced to it by my Dad, who gave me his battered copy, but once I started reading it I was instantly unable to put it down. It just made so much sense, it was like a breath of fresh air after the existential crises I was having every other Tuesday. So many things that I had been feeling and thinking, but wasn’t sure why I was carrying those thoughts around, I was suddenly given explanations for.

Using various examples from people in real life, Manson’s own life, and even celebrities, Manson shows the various ways that people choose their emotions and choose their goals, even if these are what is making them unhappy, or making them feel lost – we are responsible for our own downfalls? Controversial, I know! His reaction, however, is more complicated than what you would expect for the book’s title – it’s not really about “not giving a f*ck”, but choosing what you give a f*ck about. It’s about learning how to ask yourself the really difficult questions in order to get what you want.

The Subtle Art hits home hard, but Manson’s writing is easy to follow and extremely down to earth. A lot of the time it really feels like he’s talking to you; this is also where the book’s biggest problem lies. It doesn’t always necessarily flow. The chapters are split up in such a way as to give some semblance of structure but it rambles, probably because he is originally a blogger and he is just talking to us, his readers, about what’s in his head. It also doesn’t really give ‘try it yourself’ exercises to help you learn to start asking hard questions, or give you things to do to start to change, it just explains why you should change and then expects us to know what to do. But I guess that’s part of the challenge – figuring out for yourself what you really want, not waiting on someone else to give you the answer.

Overall, The Subtle Art is a book beyond anything I’ve ever read. It might mean that I try reading other ‘self help’ books to give them a comparison, but I know I’m going to be reading Manson’s book a second time to really understand how to change my perspective on life. A refreshingly down to earth, no nonsense read, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck shows you, ultimately, that f*cks are the most important things to give, to the things in life that warrant them most. Verdict: 9/10.

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2: Review

Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2: Review

What a spectacular film – you know it’s going to be good when the opening credits are making you laugh and cry with joy, but I’ll not spoil the reason why. I find it’s always a very difficult thing to pull off a sequel that matches the quality of the original film, but Volume 2 is an exception if ever I have seen one. It’s easily good enough to warrant seeing in cinemas, and Marvel does a wonderful job of keeping things fresh.

Volume 2 has a very different storyline in comparison to the first Guardians film, even ignoring the difference because the second is not a origin story. Volume 2 feels, in a way, much more contained with the action and dialogue to one place than the first film ever did. Ultimately, it’s still a film about ‘saving the Galaxy’, as Rocket is happy to remind us, but it is not in a way that you would expect when the film begins.

One thing that did remain similar through Volume 2 was the music; the same way it played such an important role in the first film, the music was still as important and the song choices do not disappoint. In fact, I think the music in this film is potentially even more important; it is directly spoken about and though I knew less of the songs this time around, the choices were still exactly what were necessary for the situation and what was happening on screen. I will definitely be buying the second album.

The plot was varied and sometimes had odd timings for the way things played out, including the choices made to cut scenes and move to action that was happening elsewhere. A couple of times I was put off by them; questions would be asked which would be left unanswered by a cut to another scene – the exposition for the asked question would come later, but would happen in a completely different setting and lose the continuity. Saying that, there were strong performances from all cast members and I enjoyed the character development for them all, especially being able to learn more about Drax and his past, Yondu and Nebula. Baby Groot though – oh, Baby Groot! The adorable little wood-creature makes this film what it is, and I cried several times because of the adorable tiny tree.

I was interested to see if Volume 2 could continue to be as comic as the first film – and for the most part, it succeeded. I laughed out loud at points, but it also occasionally fell short of the mark. This film was more serious than the first at points and I think they didn’t always manage to find the right balance between the more sombre moments and the comic relief. Overall, though, Volume 2 manages to capture the same light hearted spirit that I love about the Guardians of the Galaxy, without selling out on any of the action or serious character development.

Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2 is a heartfelt, wonderful film. Hilarious at points, I think I must have worked my way through seven different emotions whilst watching it. It’s entertaining, has great editing and writing as well as amazing back drops – but more than that, it does what any decent sequel should do for a film: it builds. Volume 2 builds and develops all the great things we loved about Guardians of the Galaxy, showing off the character’s different roles and personalities, and makes us hungry for more. Verdict: 9/10

The Breakfast Club: 33 Years Later

The Breakfast Club: 33 Years Later

It’s been exactly 33 years since the day that five teenagers entered the library at the imaginary Shermer High School for their Saturday detention – it’s been 33 years since Brian wrote a letter to Mr Vernon dismissing his prejudices of them as people rather than just teenagers – and so it felt like a poignant time to discuss my love and admiration for the fantastic film that is The Breakfast Club.

Since first watching it at sixteen, I have found The Breakfast Club refreshingly unique, even if it does deal with some of the most stereotypical, archetypal characteristics of young people I have ever seen. But that’s the subtle beauty of the whole film, and why I think John Hughes did such a wonderful thing with it; the whole point of the film is that the outside world, the camera and the school, teachers and parents, see these teenagers as their stereotypes – but somehow, through meeting each other on a Saturday, they realise this is not who they are at all.

Insightful, wonderful, and also very weird, The Breakfast Club jumps about all over the place; the teens yell at each other, spit insults and threaten each other, before suddenly running around the school, smoking weed, dancing and spilling their deepest secrets in a matter of two hours – it’s overwhelming. It’s also part of why I love it – the film covers such a vast range of emotions the same way we can so easily swap them as teenagers finding our way in life (just ask my seventeen year old brother), but it doesn’t get swamped by these. It still lends itself to our teenage truths, hopes and fears, and even as adults I think there is something to be learnt and taken away from the film. We cannot let our hearts die.

Though it was filmed before my time, I have never seen a teen movie since The Breakfast Club that matches its understanding, thought-provoking nature; except for maybe Mean Girls, which can also match it for sharp writing, interesting humour, and a ridiculous amount of memorable quotes. However, The Breakfast Club is also unique in that the majority of it it takes place in one room and is mostly dialogue driven – which makes it easy to see why people have tried adapting it to the stage. Even I did, in a small-scale adaptation of the film which I put on for my University’s Drama Festival in my second year.

It just goes to show that it may be 33 years since Brian wrote that letter, but teenagers never change, and The Breakfast Club always has something more to give. It is as touching, honest, raw and true now about its characters and their values as it always has been. It’s no wonder it’s a classic. Verdict: 10/10.

Rogue One: Review

Rogue One: Review

(disclaimer: the poster used with this review is ©Lucasfilm and does not belong to me)

In loving memory of Carrie Fisher.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was perfect for what it set out to be: both something, and nothing, to do with the real Star Wars franchise that I have been following since the first trilogy in the 1980s (not that I watched it until I was actually born). It was a story that was set in the Star Wars galaxy (or universe?) but with completely new characters that we have never seen before, and will never see again. It was a ‘one off’; based in between the original trilogy and the ‘prequels’ of the early 2000s, it tells the story of the rebels who fight to get hold of the Death Star plans, in order to roll straight into the plot of Star Wars (the 1977 original). It was just what we needed.

There was a bit of a jumpy start, with our protagonist who appears unwilling, and after someone pointed it out to me, I was very aware that this was the third white, brunette, female protagonist we have had written into Star Wars. However, Jyn Erso (played by Felicity Jones) held her own against the rebels (until she became one of them); her skills with a blaster were great, but I also didn’t doubt them after discovering the background the character had.

I have always really enjoyed the Star Wars universe and its films, and was glad that this time the production made the decision to show us where the action was taking place, especially considering it jumped from planet to planet, and rebel to Empire. Speaking of the Empire, Darth Vader’s occasional scenes were fantastic; it makes sense, considering this was when he was his highest point of power and still climbing. I was glad that they involved his character so much, whilst also refraining from making him the central villain for the film in order to keep it away from the main franchise.

The score was new and refreshing, but still in keeping with the traditional Star Wars themes we all know and love. There were interesting sets, and the plot was easy to get invested in as an audience member, because (even though the characters are new) it is a world we already know and understand – there was not as much need for world building. One of my favourite things about Rogue One is that the stakes are truly, utterly, phenomenally high. I was constantly on the edge of my seat, worried for the characters; it’s breathlessly fast towards the end of the film, and it feels like an incredibly close call even though we have the hindsight and knowledge that the rebels do get the Death Star plans. It didn’t matter that I knew that, I was still anxious for all the characters and cared about them – even the new, sarcastic, robot companion.

All in all, Rogue One was a success. The timing for it’s comic relief was on point; the film was fun, exciting, dangerous and well developed within the Star Wars world and its various branches. Lets have another Star Wars Story, and bring on Episode VIII. Verdict: 8.5/10.

Godspell: A Review

Godspell: A Review

Shotgun Theatre is the University of Exeter’s more ‘unorthodox’ musical theatre society, offering a social membership, inclusive ethos, and putting on dynamic and interesting pieces of theatre throughout the academic year. Their first term musical was the off-broadway production Godspell, originally written by Stephen Schwartz. I would try to explain what the plot of the musical is… but I honestly have no idea.

Godspell is also known as “Godspell: The Musical based on the Gospel according to St Matthew”, and that should hopefully give some kind of clue as to what it circles around. It follows Jesus and his disciples, running through various parables as miniature stories and songs that make the musical into a whole.  At least, I think it does – having never been particularly religious, I hadn’t heard of many of the parables previously and so didn’t really understand where the musical was going, or (for the majority of the time) what on earth was going on.

Saying this, I never lost focus or became disinterested with Godspell, and I think this definitely has to do with a great creative team, cast and crew. Joe Miller’s direction brought the stories alive through various means; humour, interesting and varied staging, puppetry, levels and light design all played a part in creating a enthralling performance. All the cast were highly engaging and their vocal talents were exceptional, both as a chorus and individually. Occasionally, there was a moment that you could tell one or two voices were tired, but otherwise it was beautiful, with well developed harmonies and a score that had me humming as we left.

The difference between the actors who played Judas and Jesus was a nice, stark contrast; Miller made a successful choice in blind-casting for his performers, resulting in Emily Lefoy being cast as Jesus. She carried the humour and severity of the character well, switching smoothly enough between the two that it seemed to confuse the audience and the rest of the cast alike; we felt their distress as their ‘master’ grew cold and retreated from them.

I enjoyed the cast as individuals as well as an ensemble, and though I didn’t quite understand it, the music and action was precise and polished enough that it made Godspell a thoroughly enjoyable experience. If you didn’t get the chance to see it, then you have unfortunately missed out on a wonderfully entertaining (if a little strange) evening.

Musically superb, visually eye-catching and delightful, Godspell had a fabulous cast and what must have been a great crew in order to pull this wacky, nonsensical performance to the heights it reached. Godspell was definitely a night to remember. Verdict: 8.5/10.

Shotgun Theatre’s Term 2 production, Made In Dagenham, is on at the Exeter Phoenix from the 16th-19th of January.

The Trees: Review

The Trees: Review

An intriguing, totally original book by Ali Shaw, The Trees marries reality with the fantastical in the most magical of ways, resulting in a book that is both down to earth and wonderfully human whilst still holding something of the spectacular. It begins in a suburban town just outside London, but within the first chapter, the country (and world, it seems) has been tipped upside down by the arrival of the trees. They appear very suddenly overnight, causing chaos and changing life as we know it in the blink of an eye.

Our unwilling protagonist is Adrien Thomas, and the book follows the journey of this self-proclaimed coward as well as the companions he meets whilst trying to traverse this new world. There’s nature-loving Hannah, her technology deprived son Seb, and a mysterious Japanese hunter girl (and badass) Hiroko. Adrien ‘accidentally’ sets out on a mission to find his wife when he finds out that Hannah and Seb are travelling to find Hannah’s brother; along the way the group come across mythical, or ancient, creatures (not sure which they classify as), confront death and the breakdown of social structure, and also manage to learn a lot about themselves and each other.

The Trees begins at a crawl, and at first I didn’t enjoy many of the characters – especially our antihero Adrien. This might have been because of Adrien’s lack of drive, which the book definitely plays on throughout. I mostly related to Hannah as a character at the beginning, having always also enjoyed nature, but the realisation that social norms (and their lives) have fallen apart quickly has Hannah’s love of the forest beginning to wain and wear out.

At times, Shaw’s novel is very dark; The Trees plays well on human nature and our fluctuating emotions and desires, proving that our instinctive nature is as brutal and wild as the trees that appear over night and show no signs of moving or relenting. In simple terms, The Trees delivers the wonderful, if harrowing, message that humans are still just animals, and our base desires are as savage as the natural world is. I love it.

As the book progresses, I began to feel for the characters and understand them in a more profound way as their personalities were explored, the original impressions peeled away to reveal their inner natures, strengths and weaknesses. The way that they grow to care about each other, in their little band of misfits, was the same way that I grew to care about them. It was an organic (pardon the pun) character growth that definitely made me feel more involved in their predicament, and proved that Shaw’s writing and sense of pace is excellent. By the end of the book, I couldn’t put it down – I needed to know that these people I had grown to care about were going to be alright in their new and frightening world.

Thoroughly engrossing, with a spectacular concept for a nature-lover like me (or anyone who is interested in the different ways we may see the apocalypse), The Trees grows on you like the natural world that gives the book its name: slowly, inching forward and creating solid foundations, but finishing with power and total captivation of the imagination. There is definitely something in The Trees for everyone. Verdict: 9/10.

Doctor Strange: Review

Doctor Strange: Review

(disclaimer: the poster that is used with this review is ©Marvel Studios and does not belong to me)

I am a big fan of the Cinematic Marvel Universe – I don’t pretend to know as much as other people, having never read Marvel Comics, but I still feel like I know my fair share about what’s going on in the Universe they’re creating for the screen. So I had pretty high hopes for the latest Marvel film, but Doctor Strange was one superhero I hadn’t heard much about before going into the cinema. All I knew was that Benedict Cumberbatch had been roped into playing the title character – and he did not disappoint (even if it did take a while for me to get over his American accent).

For another origin story (as Marvel bring all their strings together for the showdown of the century in Avengers: Infinity War, so the rumours go), Doctor Strange provided an interesting character and a good story line. Doctor Stephen Strange, played by the great Benedict Cumberbatch, is the second out-right selfish character we’ve followed in the Marvel stories after Tony Stark (Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr). Saying that, I was happy to see that in comparison to Iron Man, Stephen Strange seems to learn much more quickly how to get over this selfishness. After all, much of his self-interest and aggression stems from the loss of his hands in the first ten minutes of the film; to Stephen Strange, the celebrated neurosurgeon, the loss of his hands shouts a loss of identity and makes him question all of his self-worth.

Doctor Strange follows Stephen as, after he alienates himself from everyone who cares about him and loses his livelihood, he sets out to find a way to fix himself. But somehow on his journey to find and fix himself, Stephen Strange ends up becoming what is – in essence – a magician. After that, it’s as simple as saving the world from a giant, inter-dimensional enemy. Though it seems a similar plot to a lot of other superhero origin stories, I was pleasantly surprised by Doctor Strange‘s ending; it was an interesting, unique final battle, and unlike anything we have seen before.

More than that, there were some parts of Doctor Strange that were visually stunning – look out for some inter-dimensional travel and what the characters call the ‘mirror dimension’. Though impressive CGI, it can sometimes feel like you are looking through a kaleidoscope, and didn’t do much except confuse me for a couple of minutes; but I get the impression that that was the point, as the characters struggle with their quickly-changing surroundings. On the other hand, the fight scenes were wicked, including one that takes place between two astral-form characters. Also, watch out for the appearance of Doctor Strange’s cape, I honestly laughed out loud.

Unfortunately, the cape was one of the only things in Doctor Strange that made me laugh; most of the attempts at humour fell flat, and some of them seemed forced when otherwise the film was quite a serious piece, focusing on Stephen Strange’s struggle to make peace with his disability. Of course there were moments of humour that worked, and a few witty lines that reminded the audience that we were still in the 21st Century (given that you’d probably otherwise forget); but for the most part it was a more sombre origin story than others Marvel have done for, say, the likes of Ant-Man.

However, there is a trend with male Marvel superheroes I’ve begun to notice that Doctor Strange confirmed. Currently, they’re all caucasian… and a lot seem to have a male sidekick or friend of African descent (Thor, Iron Man, Captain America). My initial question is why? I’m excited for Black Panther and his origin as the first non-caucasian title character, but otherwise, why is it that white men are leading as title characters, whilst having a black companion? To say it’s to fit in with the “look” of characters from the comics is just not good enough. Plus, let’s just think briefly of Tilda Swinton’s casting as the Ancient One – it diverts hugely from the Doctor Strange comics and just felt… weird. If you’re looking for ethnic variety in a film, make it variety, not just one or two characters with a different ethnic background while the rest of them, even minor characters, are white.

Ultimately, Doctor Strange was a success. It was a fascinating watch; good, solid acting from most of the cast, amazing visuals and some thrilling fight scenes. However, I missed the lightheartedness of some of the other Marvel films, and I think it’s time we changed up the origin-story formula. Verdict: 8/10.

The Girl With All The Gifts: Review

The Girl With All The Gifts: Review

(note: this is for the book, not the recent film adaptation)

Another dystopian future, I hear you cry? I guess there must be a trend… The Girl With All The Gifts, by M. R. Carey, gives us a believable look into a zombie apocalyptic future. It takes place two decades after a variation of the fungus Ophiocordyceps unilateralis (it’s real, I looked it up. Check “Cordyceps: attack of the killer fungi” on Youtube. David Attenborough even calls it “something out of science fiction”) has caused the apocalypse – but this plot reads as the most sophisticated, understandable zombie-story I’ve ever come across, within a topic that I would usually shrug off as fantasy.

The zombies in TGWALG are known as ‘hungries’; humans whose nervous systems have been taken over by the parasitic fungus, whose sole purpose is to hunt down non-infected humans and bite them – both to eat them as protein, and to pass the pathogen on through spit and blood, transferring the fungus. Interestingly enough, this is not the first time Ophiocordyceps has been used as a potential zombie-creator. A friend pointed out to me that this is the same fungus used by the console game The Last of Us, developed by Naughty Dog. Interesting coincidence, although in The Last of Us the fungus is also airborne, whereas in Carey’s novel, this hasn’t happened.

TGWATG follows a third-person omnipresent narrative, focusing on four main characters. The most prominent and interesting of these four is Melanie, a 10-year-old child genius… who also happens to be a hungry. She has grown up in a lab with other hungry children who all still have a self-consciousness (unlike the usual hungries, which have reverted to an less-than animal-like state). Enter: Parks, an army sergeant charged with looking after the lab’s security; Dr. Caldwell, the scientist trying to understand the miraculous hungry children and use them to find a cure; and Helen Justineau, the woman who teaches the hungry children, and who Melanie sees as a surrogate mother. Input: chaos, and watch their lives get drastically altered. Nothing will ever be the same again.

I find the ‘hungries’ a genuinely horrifying idea; unlike your traditional zombie, they’re fast, mobile, and once they get your scent, cannot be distracted from the hunt. Originally, I decided to read the book so that when I went to see the film, I would have some idea of the scare-rate, and I’m certainly glad I did, because I would not have been expecting their aggression (saying that, my local cinema didn’t even show the film, so I still have yet to see it). One of my favourite things about Carey’s writing, though, is the depth of every character and the post-apocalyptic world that was created. Half of the characters we get to know were born after the “Breakdown”, and it is interesting – refreshing, even – to see the way they view their new world, as someone who is part of the ‘old’ one.

Set in England, there are a lot of mentions to London, its outlying towns, and pre-apocalyptic memorabilia which I found were easy ways to be drawn into the world of the story. That, and Melanie’s thought processes are incredible; detailed, well structured, and easy to empathise with. I had to keep reminding myself she was 10. Sometimes, I did find myself thinking there were too many similes chucked in that drew attention away from the ongoing plot, but otherwise there was good, thorough description and thoughtful, researched science when the chapters focused on Dr. Caldwell and her research.

A thoroughly refreshing – if horrifying – look on a potential zombie apocalypse, The Girl With All The Gifts is dark, well-paced and an ultimately touching story. It is both deeply, totally human, whilst heavy with science that portrays a scary, animalistic future. Also, it has an absolutely killer ending that I never, ever saw coming. Verdict: 8/10.

 

 

Luna, New Moon: A Review

Luna, New Moon: A Review

Though I have always been a fan of strange and eclectic fiction – which usually gets put under the general headers of ‘sci-fi’ and ‘fantasy’, Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald was my first full-blooded space adventure, and I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. Occasionally, the language was confusing and challenging, but being a English and Drama student, I don’t know much about the science behind the book’s ideas. I mean, I would believe anything McDonald wrote about the way humans have managed to colonise and live on the moon – I have to remind myself it’s still fiction .

Being a prolific reader venturing into a new genre, one thing I noticed about myself is that I don’t really care about the setting of a book. I think setting can enhance a story, but the reason I didn’t blanch at the heavy-duty space jargon was the fact that in it’s core, Luna: New Moon is a book about people. What enthrals and captivates us about books are their characters and their plots- if these things are clever, well developed and interesting, everything else is just a bonus; this theory, I think, perfectly incapsulates Luna: New Moon. (As well as the fact that I was both terrified and intrigued by the book’s constant reminder that the Moon could kill you very, very easily. Just take the first two sentences of the blurb: “The Moon wants to kill you. She has a thousand ways to do it.”)

Luna: New Moon follows the interlinked stories of various individuals surrounding and involving the Corta family. The Cortas are one of the ‘Five Dragons’; five families/corporations that live in delicate balance with the others, controling all of the resources and industries on the Moon. (The Corta family’s wealth and power come from mining Helium-3 to fuel the Earth’s energy needs.) Everything on the Moon – even the air in your lungs – has a price; when you die, your parts are recycled. Nothing is wasted, nothing is squandered. But human nature – our desires, needs and wants – are still strong within the individuals living on the Moon, most of whom have been there so long that they can’t physically return to Earth.

I’m not the first person to notice that Luna: New Moon is similar in it’s politics and family feuds to George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series (Game of Thrones, for the show-watchers), and it’s very true. The difficult, complex web of who-controls-what and who-wants-control feel very similar, except with the huge difference that Luna is set in space, adding an entirely new level of danger. Family is everything to the Five Dragons, but with shifting alliances and an almost-assassination, you can’t trust anyone – and then things start to get really interesting.

Two of my favourite surprises in this book included McDonald’s easy use of characters who were genderless (and have their own pronoun!) and a main character who is autosexual. Having never read a book with either of these preferences in them, it took me a while to get my head around it before I realised: why the hell not? It makes perfect sense, given that the book is set so far in the future. Even if it wasn’t, I feel like more authors should be writing about different forms of sexuality and gender as we become more aware of these things as personal choice rather than trusting ‘traditional’ binaries.

Overall, Luna: New Moon is an eye-opener, in more ways than one. Ian McDonald has created a well-paced, rounded, gritty story packed full of well developed, interesting characters. There is real danger at every turn, and you never know what might happen next. The sequel, Luna: Wolf Moon, came out on September 27th. You can be guaranteed it’s a sequel I’ll be getting my hands on. Verdict: 8/10.

Nod: A Review

Nod: A Review

Though originally published in 2012, I didn’t stumble upon Nod, by Adrian Barnes, until early 2016. Saying that, I’m truly glad I decided to pick it up after seeing it hiding amongst the science-fiction in my local Waterstones.  As I turn to the back of the book and read the blurb, the first sentence is the premise in a nutshell: “Dawn breaks over Vancouver and no one in the world has slept the night before, or almost no one.”

The story follows our narrator, Paul, who is one of the few people in the world – 1 in 10,000 – who has been able to sleep. Not only this, but when Paul now sleeps, he has a mysterious ‘golden dream’. We follow him through the book as modern day descends into sleep-deprived madness; though our interesting, introverted protagonist is still capable of sleep, he is forced to watch as his girlfriend Tanya crumbles, and the city he lives in turns into a wasteland.

It seems to start slowly, but the hordes of ‘Awakened’ are soon digressing to their primitive, animal selves; all bets are off, shackles of humanity stripped away, and order is a thing of the past. The most harrowing thing I felt about Nod? Barnes paints such a vivid, stark image of the apocalypse that I could honestly see this one coming true.

This, in part, is what makes Barnes’ idea so fantastic – and also frightening, in equal measure.  Unlike many other dystopian future/apocalyptic ideas I have come across before, this feels very real. It asks no questions of itself, and doesn’t try to find an answer or a ‘cure’. The plot is both complex and simple in its motive; it’s not about why this has happened, but how it affects everything, day by day, and how humanity tries – and ultimately fails – to traverse their new landscape and deal with their terrifying new surroundings.

Adrian Barnes has a very clever idea here, and it is made even more poignant (I think) by his own personal circumstances. Though my copy of Nod came with his essay, I didn’t read it until after I had finished the book (watch for the ending. Bittersweet). It’s called ‘My Cancer is as Strange as my Fiction‘, and in it, Barnes details his own struggles with cancer, and how Nod and the world Paul inhabits sometimes mirrors the difficulties Barnes himself is facing.

Even if you don’t get the chance to read Nod, the article is a good one, and it’s easy to see why Adrian Barnes is such a good writer. Even when speaking directly to his reader, his writing is intelligent, melodic, and self aware. If you’re looking for a novel (pun intended) read that combines clever, subtle science-fiction with real, human emotion and our basic instinct to stay alive, then Nod is the book for you.

It’s a fairly easy read – though some of it’s content is mature – and it captures the imagination with vibrant description, so if you’re anything like me, you won’t be able to put it down. Verdict: 7.5/10.