Nod | Author: Adrian Barnes | Publisher: Titan Books | Release Date: September 1 2015
Paul, a writer and etymologist, is a misanthropic loner who prefers the company of words. He’s working away at his latest novel, a book about sidetracked and forgotten words called Nod, when civilization starts to crumble. Tanya, his girlfriend, comes home one day with the news that hardly anyone in the world had slept the night before. In fact, only around 1 in ten thousand people have slept and Paul is one of them.
At first, Paul and Tanya try to follow a regular routine in the hopes that life will shortly return to normal. Tanya grows increasingly paranoid however, spending her sleepless nights devouring any information she can find. The timeline for the future of humanity becomes clear: six days without sleep means psychosis will set in and in less than a month the body will shut down. When the world’s leaders settle on the conclusion that radio waves and electromagnetic frequencies are to blame for the interference with sleep, communication is abruptly cut off.
Sleep deprivation quickly turns society on its head. By day 4 the Awakened people of Vancouver have lost purpose and grown violent. A small group of children seem to be as healthy as ever – Sleepers – and one of them, Zoe, becomes Tanya and Paul’s reason to live. It’s when Paul is forced to venture out into the city for supplies and runs into Charles, a homeless man who he knew before the crisis, that reality becomes truly unhinged. Charles has convinced himself and a few dozen followers, that Paul is their prophet. He believes this new world was foretold by Paul is his book, Nod.
The new world that comes into focus during Nod’s twenty chapters is powerfully and richly drawn. It’s not so much the city itself that changes but rather the people who are surviving in it. The remaining inhabitants essentially become the setting because the story is really about what’s happening inside of humans. Stanley Park, a massive forest in downtown Vancouver, becomes horrifying when Paul describes the shadows of the Awakened lurking around in it, and yet becomes a sanctuary when he discovers the hidden world of the Sleeper children. It is because of this I can say Nod had great potential.
Ultimately though, I felt that the book left too many avenues unexplored. So many ideas were presented only to be left unfulfilled. In particular was the golden light dream that all Sleepers were apparently experiencing. These dreams were so captivating and colorful, jumping right off the page into my imagination. It seemed as though they were going to provide further insight into a number of aspects going on in the book, but alas, were never expanded upon.
The lack of character development overall was irksome but my biggest issue with this book was its lack of gender diversity. Aside from Tanya and Zoe –essentially just plot devices – there were no female characters. Yes, women existed in the book but they were purely on the periphery. Anyone who Paul encountered, or who greatly impacted the story was male. This may not have been such a glaring problem if it weren’t for the way the few women who did appear were portrayed. Considering Nod has only the one narrative voice, it’s hard to discern whether or not the sexist viewpoints come from Paul or the author himself. Either way, there were several parts of the book, which gave me serious pause. Often times “Paul’s” description of women was less than favorable – to say the least – and typically very judgmental in a way didn’t match the depiction he afforded the male characters. Paul’s view of women is, if nothing else, simplistic and archaic. Take for example the paragraph when Paul and Tanya first discover Zoe.
“We called her Zoe, Tanya having plucked the name from a mental list of future-children names that women seem to carry around inside themselves like eggs. Women. Eggs in their bodies, babies in their eyes.”
This would have made more sense if it had been followed up with a “Ladies! Am I right, fellas?” And when I look up from the page I would realize I’m actually at a shitty comedy bar where it’s open-mic night. What was the intention here aside from offering a sweeping generalization of women, which effectively reduced Tanya to her basic biological function? Not that Tanya really had any identity anyways, she felt like an idea that was never fully realized. Though she would have been an interesting character to flesh out, especially because of her status as an Awakened, she was just sort of there, reacting to events and never really doing anything out of her own volition.
Paul tells us he loves and cares for Tanya but it feels like an empty sentiment. For the majority of the book he seems unconcerned about her descent into madness. There is no talk of searching for answers and no motivation to fight, just what feels like an easy acceptance of this fate. For a while I thought this might have been a side effect of Paul being a Sleeper; he could no longer empathize with those who weren’t Sleepers because of some hidden message in the dreams. This was never confirmed, nor supported or even explored within the text, however.
As someone who often struggles with sleep, the concept of a world completely deprived of rest is highly fascinating. While Nod managed to pique my interest, in the end it left me unsatisfied, wishing for more.
This book was almost too calm, took too long to get truly exciting. This is not at all what I expected from a story about the end of the world. I didn’t feel the urgency or desperation that one might assume goes along with the threat of human existence being wiped out. Paul felt as if he was merely drifting through the chaos when he should have been surrounded by it. Which made it difficult to truly connect with him or the story.
The highlight of Nod was in its expertly illustrated accounts of how Paul witnessed his fellow humans changing and degrading before his eyes. I could see what the new world of Nod looked like, could easily picture the slow collapse of Vancouver and its people thanks to Barnes’ close attention to detail. At times I could even smell the death and decay it so vividly described. Paul’s Golden Light dreams were particularly captivating.
Unfortunately – likely due in part to spending such a great deal of time focused on the world around them – the main characters fell flat. They felt like outlines, sketches. There was a great deal of potential for several of these people that just never really paid off. It would have been enjoyable to read more than just Paul’s POV, so we could truly get a sense of what was happening in the psyche and perspectives of the Awakened.