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Book Review: Nod by Adrian Barnes



Imagine going to bed, secure with your place in the world and all its comforts, only to crawl out of bed the following morning having not slept a wink. This is the premise for Adrian Barnes’s dazzlingly frightening novel, 'Nod'. Paul, who comes to be known as a ‘sleeper’, documents his experiences as the world descends into a dystopian chaos; a world where the ‘awakened’ run rampant, desperately searching for the reasons behind the apocalyptic catastrophe. But Paul’s role in this new world is important, whether he likes it or not. It is from his book that the ‘sleepers’ find hope, courtesy of the malign Admiral of the Blue, and on top of that, how will he cope as he watches sleep deprivation gradually destroy his partner Tanya?

The story is written from the perspective of Paul who records what he sees for an unknown reader, presumably a fellow ‘sleeper’, as he watches the world’s final transformation. Like so many characters in dystopian and apocalyptic stories, Paul is an unwilling leader/prophet, but as the saying goes, greatness is thrust upon him, leaving the reader rooting for the unlikely hero. Linguistically, the text is rich and Barnes uses it to create a vivid contrast between normality and Nod, order and chaos. 

The treatment of sex and death emphasises this transition, leaving lasting impressions on the reader – a strong mental capacity is required in some cases, but that is the nature of dystopian literature – to push our comforts with the taboo.

Barnes himself said that in writing ‘Nod’ he wanted to explore a life-long fascination he has had with life and death. This is at the core of the novel; the characters watch the dying world with eyes held painfully open, but what they see is considerably different – like a liminal space where anything can and does happen. There are also strong religious undertones; the epithet comes directly from Genesis, the book of Job: ‘And Cain went out from the face of the Lord and dwelt in the land of Nod on the east side of Eden.’ This in itself prepares us for significant questions: Why did God put Job in hell? And in turn, why did Barnes put Paul in hell? The answer perhaps being to see what is left of humanity, when there really is nothing left.

In closing, this book is deep and will leave the reader asking many questions about humanity when humanity’s stripped bare – think ‘Lord of the Flies’ meets ‘The Stand’. At the crux of it, we are animals, and when we are put in situations where survival is a fight to the death, that is exactly what we’ll do. In ‘Nod’ the rules no longer apply, and the reader may find themselves judging the actions of characters as evil and degenerate. However, it leaves a question lingering on in the sub-conscious: How different would my actions be? And that is when you really do get scared.

Written by Robert Horton

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