By Adrian Barnes
Publisher: Titan Books
Dawn breaks over Vancouver and no one in the world has slept the night before, or almost no one. A few people, perhaps one in ten thousand, can still sleep, and they’ve all shared the same golden dream.
After six days of absolute sleep deprivation, psychosis will set in. After four weeks, the body will die. In the interim, panic ensues and a bizarre new world arises in which those previously on the fringes of society take the lead.
Paul, a writer, continues to sleep while his partner Tanya disintegrates before his eyes, and the new world swallows the old one whole.
The synopsis for Nod is pretty inclusive so I am omitting a thorough recap. The story simply follows the events ensuing a cataclysmic but unexplained occurrence that has stripped the world’s occupants of sleep. Only the smallest handful of mankind now retain the ability.
I want to begin by exploring the one element that sets Nod apart from other dystopian stories. That would be its fictional prose that sets the stage for a read that is more literary in tone than one might expect. For this very reason, you will either discover a profound appreciation or dislike for Nod within a matter or mere chapters. The experience is unique, and I believe will find the same in its following.
Paul, our main character suffers an affliction in the most unlikely forms. He retains the ability to sleep while those around him fail to do so. Within this, he discovers isolation and desperation as humanity slowly unravels around him in the form of sleep deprivation. It will begin as generalized fatigue and then unfold until psychosis and death eventually claim all he knows of humanity. The approach Barnes has taken is simple and highly effective. It was reminiscent of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend in the fact that I found it to be a raw and quick look at humanity (or the loss of) through the eyes of an outsider.
The setting is as expected. A turmoil is brewing beneath the surface as mankind struggles with loss of sleep and sense. What begins as small encounters of aggression and oddities soon evolve into episodes of delirium, leading to a state of maddening incoherence and violence. Perhaps the most terrifying aspect of Nod is the pacing. It takes the human body approximately 4 weeks to die without sleep and there in lies the rate at which this story transpires. It is unsettling on a multitude of levels.
“Hell is time, isn’t that obvious? Take your greatest pleasure or your greatest fantasy and let it come continuously true—for a day, a week, a year, a decade. And that’s hell.”
Nod is a highly successful approach to a time old tale of the downfall of civilization. The abrupt onset and pacing of an unusual malady combined with a dry and darkened sense of humor fuel a fast and consistent read that creates an inventive and original encounter that fans of horror and dystopia will not want to miss.
Enjoyed with a cup of chocolate pu-erh tea and cocoa.