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.