Nod: An Insomniac’s Nightmare

It’s Day 11 of the 13 Writes of Fright, which means only two more days until Halloween! If you’ve been craving a good book to curl up with while you greet trick or treaters (or just eat all the candy yourself), look no further than Nod by Adrian Barnes, a chilling sci-fi thriller that forces you to take a step back and examine society from the outside looking in.

Nod by Adrian Barnes

The premise is simple:  everyone in the world wakes up tomorrow, goes to work, and realizes no one slept the night before. Not even for a few minutes, not even micro-sleep, nothing. Well, except for 1 in 10,000 people who slept like babies and all had the same amazing dream about a golden light. Our narrator Paul is a unsociable, self-important, frequently annoying writer who slept. Tanya is his gregarious, obsessive, easily frustrated partner who did not. After a brief flash forward to day 18, we follow Paul and Tanya day by day as the chaos unfolds.

As it turns out, human bodies do not like functioning on no sleep. From Tanya’s research on day two, we know how things are going to end:  6 days until sleep deprivation psychosis, and 32 days or less until death. And with that, Nod creates the perfect apocalyptic world with an accelerated timeline for the demise of humanity, because within 6 days, 9,999 people out of 10,000 will be psychotic.

Desperation grips almost all of humanity, trying their hardest to sleep before day 6 or plan ahead so, if day 6 comes and goes, they can make it through the psychosis to whatever cure or fix the world will come up with to save them. Barnes uses Paul as a witness to the unraveling of the world rather than a participant, cycling through various aspects of what this combination of psychosis and desperation does to the mankind. We see looting, senseless violence, and mercy killing. We meet two different cults:  the Awakened, who think they are the chosen ones for not sleeping, and the Cat Sleepers, who are pretending to be Sleepers. We meet other Sleepers, including Sleeper children who are mute and lacking in emotional response to the horrors they are witnessing on all sides. We watch the world go through waves of high and low organization, all while Paul struggles to stay alive, tending to his basic needs like food, water, shelter, and safety, which often means attempting to conceal his Sleeper status by all means possible, including sleep deprivation.

The highlight of Nod is the communication between the author and the reader via Paul. At one point, Paul notices that he is perhaps not having the appropriate emotional reaction to something, but given that his only frames of reference are the children who apparently feel nothing and those who haven’t slept in days, he remains oblivious to just how detached from the world he has become. But we, the readers, still living in the world of ordinary emotional responses, see what he cannot:  he may not be as far gone as the children Sleepers, but he is well on his way from the beginning. We see it when he questions, “If eight billion of us in the next four weeks is that significant…With no one left to mourn the wreckage, one could even argue that it wouldn’t be a bad way to end things at all:  egalitarian if nothing else.” At first, this could just be Paul being Paul, but really, who stops to think that thought in the middle of trying to save his partner’s life, fighting for his own life, and watching the world crumble to pieces?

That’s the brilliance of this novel – Paul watches the world fall apart while we watch Paul fall apart. But not fall apart as in fractures, but falls apart as in ceases to exist. All he and the other Sleepers want to sleep again, to dream that golden light once more. Paul as a narrator thinks he is telling the story of an us verses them, Sleepers verses sleepless, and the ultimate demise of the one, while we really are reading the demise of both, simultaneously, as they are dragged either side of the spectrum further and further away from each other to the oblivion on either end.

Nod is a thought-provoking, chilling novel that explores many corners of our lives:  relationships and leadership, love and loss, childhood and innocence, knowledge and lack thereof, addiction and delusion. It creates a whole world just to force us to confront the less savory aspects of our own. And, ultimately, watching the demise of humanity from the outside looking in is an unsettling and sometimes nauseating experience, making this the perfect Halloween read!

[Photo credit: Titan Books]

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