Adrian Barnes’ debut novel Nod is an interesting take on the end of the world. Imagine if, rather than zombies, aliens or natural disaster, everyone simply failed to able to go to sleep? End of the world scenarios are standard fare for genre fiction, there's nothing quite like tearing down society in order to throw it into sharp reflection. In Nod, the method in which everything ends is the key focus, and it's through this we learn more about ourselves.
The story follows Paul, an unlikeable chap who writes books about unusual words for a living. He has a reasonably nice life- a decent partner, a good flat and plenty of people around him that he can passive-aggressively judge. He also is one of the few human beings still capable of sleeping, as everyone else rapidly devolves into crazy, twitchy beings, unable to deal with the world in a rational way. As the novel progresses, the writing style becomes more dreamlike and difficult to quantify. As the events unfold, people become less coherent and sane, as does the narrative. This throws the normal world into sharp reflection. Nod is not a book about fighting zombie-like monsters in an apocalyptic world; it's about the collapse of sanity that leads to the end.
Nod originally came out as a small-press book and it does show; there's a refreshing lack of polish (especially toward the end); Barnes has been permitted to take risks with his narrative and this mostly a good thing. The narrative is a firmly compelling one, and despite its strangeness, it's quite a comfortable read. It actually benefits from being read in one big gulp; it's just easier to empathise of a world full of fatigued and cranky people, when you yourself are on your fifth cup of coffee. Nod is a book for dreamers who have become scared to dream, making it a delightful bit of horror. Give it a go, but get a good night's sleep first.
NOD / AUTHOR: ADRIAN BARNES / PUBLISHER: TITAN BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW