I was intrigued by the premise of Nod, the first published novel by Adrian Barnes. Nod is a science fiction novel which on its first print run was nominated for the 2013 Arthur C. Clarke Award, and a new edition is to be published in the UK this month by Titan Books.
‘It’s getting harder and harder to tell the living from the dead.’
The story begins with its protagonist Paul, a writer, surveying the scene of his home city of Vancouver. The city is in a state of chaos with panic, violence and confusion aplenty. The reason for this is that on one night no one in the world was able to sleep, or almost no one. A small minority of the population, Paul included, are able to sleep whilst for everyone else, sleep eludes them. This includes Paul’s partner Tanya, who he is forced to watch deteriorate along with the world as he knows it. It will take six days for psychosis to begin, four weeks before their bodies shut down. This results in a series of shocking events and behaviours as a new, frightening world emerges.
‘That was the last real conversation we ever had, and I’ll take it with me as far down this road as I end up travelling.’
The novel begins on Day 18 without sleep before returning to Day 1 with each chapter covering a different day. Through this, Paul narrates the gradual changes and describes how events soon spiral out of control. The concept of a world with no sleep is certainly unusual and has allowed Barnes to create a sinister dystopian world where ordinary people become extraordinary, frightening people. People who are capable of such terrible things. Those who are still able to sleep are referred to as Sleepers whilst those without sleep are known as the Awakened. Then there is the group of child Sleepers who roam the parks and appear unable to speak, who are considered to be ‘demons’. As time passes by the violence increases and the Awakened turn on anyone who is able to sleep. In addition, Paul’s writing is under suspicion with some believing events have been triggered by Paul’s work.
‘It’s not a world for the weak. There are demons here in Nod, and monsters, and giant spires that poke through the sky.’
Barnes has used this strange series of events to explore catastrophes of a social and personal level. As society crumbles around him Paul has to deal with life in a new, dangerous world. However, he suffers personal tragedy through Tanya. As the days go on, Tanya starts to disintegrate before Paul’s eyes, becoming a shadow of her former self. Paul has no choice but to accept that his time with Tanya will be coming to an end, a heartbreaking realisation. There is also his bond with Zoe, a Sleeper child who Paul and Tanya take in; perhaps representative of the future family life they have been denied. The destruction of civilisation is only part of the plot; it covers various themes of good versus evil, love, religion and morality.
‘It was hard to remain awake. My eyes burned with everything I’d seen and done.’
I enjoyed reading Nod. It is an an observant dystopian tale that shows, in the face of such turmoil, what it means to be human. It is a unique story that examines how fragile society can be.
Nod will be published in the UK on 4th March 2016 by Titan Books. Many thanks to Lydia Gittins at Titan Books for providing a copy for review.