Nod – a bleak look into the overexertion of humanity
Adrian Barnes’ first published novel, Nod, is the unique, engrossing story of the destruction of modern society. Paul, our narrator, finds himself among the select few who still has the ability to sleep, amidst a world which is plunged into constant insomnia overnight.
The novel isn’t what I would usually go for. In fact, Sci-Fi type genres are normally the opposite of what I would pick up at a book-store. However, when I first read the blurb of this relatively short piece, I was hooked. How can changing something so simple, something we all take for granted and think little about, completely affect the way in which society functions?
At first I was just curious: what are the logistics, why does this happen, why are some people still able to sleep? However, after just a quarter of the way through, I realised these trivial questions just didn’t matter. In fact, Barnes never lets us know what has really happened and why. Just that is has, and our narrator has got to deal with it.
Ask any person what they wish they had more of, and it’s usually a mixture of a few things: money, time, and sleep. In a world where we are encouraged to work consistently and drive ourselves constantly, we are always struggling for rest. Why do you think chains like Starbucks have done so well? We all need our morning coffee to rouse us from a sleep that is always unsatisfactory.
In Nod, we are taken through the devastating effects of that over-worked, over-tired body. Medically, the human body is unable to survive without sleep after around three weeks. However, psychosis sets in much sooner, after just five or six days. Paul soon finds himself surrounded by shells of people, muttering away to themselves and frightened of various visions. In one jarring scene, he himself is suffering the effects of sleep deprivation, and sees humans morph into mythical animals, carrying out violent acts.
After reading the novel, I couldn’t help but notice slight similarities between our own modern, destructive environment, and the fantasy land of nod. The ‘Awakened’ desperately and aimlessly follow the advice of someone called ‘The Admiral’, who promises to guide them through the turmoil. He admits to Paul that he does not know what he is doing, and that the people will listen to whoever is loudest…does this remind us of anyone, another world leader perhaps?
The children of Nod also come under scrutiny and hatred; most of them are able to sleep, yet they have oddly lost their ability to speak, being described as silent throughout. It is though they have become immune to the atrocities going on around them. Instead they choose to hide away in the shadows and take shelter from the chaos. Perhaps this a bleak look into the future we leave our own children of today…yet it could also be a comment about all the privileged who chose to ignore many of the world’s issues and problems.
It is also important to note the circumstances of the author, Adrian Barnes. Included in my edition of the novel is a moving essay titled ‘My Cancer is as Strange as my Fiction’, in which he discusses having a rare, incurable form of cancer. He likens it to Nod and its descent into this bleak, forgotten world; his cancer prohibits his ability to remember things, and has left him fascinated with relationship of life and death, in which his fictional ‘nod’ acts as the kind of in-between.
Nod really is a fascinating, moving, and intriguing read. It makes you think about humanity as a whole, and the kind of things we put ourselves (and others) through. Barnes hasn’t chosen to occupy the novel’s space with things like the logistics and science-fiction elements of the phenomenon. Instead, we are given a very real situation, and presented with raw human emotions and sacrifices. It leaves us pondering life’s worth, our relationships to one another, and our overall existence as a society.