Nod by Adrian Barnes: Book Review

nod-adrian-barnes“In theory it was, around now, Literature. Susan hated Literature. She’d much prefer to read a good book.” – Susan Sto-Helit, Soul Music (1994)

This nugget of wisdom from the late Sir Terry Pratchett is the first thing that came to mind once I’d turned the final page of Adrian Barnes’ refreshingly original take on a zombie apocalypse, Nod.

The concept is fantastic: protagonist Paul wakes up one morning to discover that the whole world, including his wife Tanya, did not sleep the night before. The very significant few who did manage to sleep, Paul included, all dreamed the same golden dream of a magnificent light. The next night comes and still no sleep. The world begins to panic. Scientists are baffled. The media is in full-blown scaremongering mode. Then comes the next night. And the next. And the next. Gradually over the course of approximately one month, those who cannot sleep fall victim to the side-effects of absolute sleep-deprivation: lank hair; poor hygiene; irritability; decreased motor skills, hallucinations; psychosis; and eventually, death. Society breaks down, and those who lived on the fringes of the old world step up to herald in the new.

In Nod, the apocalypse comes not in the form of a cataclysmic event, but something far more sinister. In this sense I was reminded strongly of one of my favourite books, John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids, which also depicts the end of the world in the form of gradual starvation and decay (oh, and killer plants, but they’re mostly an afterthought). Suffering myself from a severe lack of sleep whilst reading Nod on my arduous daily commute, I found myself getting a headache, so easily was I able to put myself in the characters’ positions. Like The Day of the Triffids, there is something so creepy and unsettling about the end of the world coming along in such an understated, chillingly relatable way.

But — and this is a big But — despite a great concept and being so fantastically well-written e.g.

Life’s a scab, and it’s our nature to pick at it until it bleeds.

Nod had one fatal flaw: it was boring.

etymology
Sounds like a fun game…

After civil order breaks down and Paul well and truly finds himself in the land of Nod, it soon becomes clear to the reader that there isn’t much of a plot. Paul embodies the ultimate ‘hood ornament’ character archetype as he is driven around from one crazed group of Awakened to another, presumably so that Barnes can showcase as much of his apocalyptic landscape as possible. The etymology theme that permeates, nay dominates the novel, whilst objectively interesting, seems a bit tacked on and doesn’t really fit or help explain anything. Lastly, if you’re expecting some kind of payoff or answers to any of your questions, prepare to be disappointed. Paul is possibly one of the least inquisitive characters I’ve ever read and seems to feel no desire to learn how Nod happened, why, or even how to resolve it.

Nod‘s author, Adrian Barnes has spoken of how he wished to explore the fragility of civil order versus disobedience in Nod. For me personally, I think he failed; this was not clear enough. I interpreted Nod to be more an exploration of the use and history of words that just happened to be set in the midst of a rather bizarre and surreal zombie apocalypse. Whilst I cannot stress enough how beautifully this book is written, I just can’t help but feel disappointed that such an original concept was seemingly wasted on trying to be too ‘literary’. The end result is a disjointed, meandering novel that I found really quite unsatisfying to read. I am thrilled to be moving on to something else.

Verdict: 2/5 stars

S.E. Berrow


For more information on Adrian Barnes and Nod, please visit his (short!) blog:

https://theauthorabout.wordpress.com/

There’s a really interesting video where he talks about the role the city of Vancouver played in Nod and offers a bit more background on some of the locations.

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