A friend handed me this novel a few weeks ago when I was off on an adventure to Bristol, she is one of those lovely people that believe books are for sharing. Nod was a read she really sold to me, because of its genre and content. She said it was a striking novel and a little unusual and reminiscent of Lord of the Flies and I agree. Nod was the last novel I read cover to cover in 2016 and it rounded the year off quite beautifully. I have been thinking lately that I will do a post shortly on my favourite reads of 2016, just for the fun of reliving them.
Nod is a tale about most of our species going to bed one night and suffering insomnia. Nobody sleeps, bar a few thousand. I want to shelve it away into dystopia but it doesn’t quite fit there as this novel feels more apocalyptic, it’s a bit more dismal. It’s a little more chaotic and without reason.
I’ve read other reviews of this novel that criticise Nod for how much it lacks any explanation, and how little the plot seems to achieve. However I feel as if these critics may be asking something from this novel that it never intended to set out and deliver. Nod is populated mostly by people who will die within four weeks from sleep deprivation and people who are going insane. It’s populated by mad prophets and crazy acolytes searching for answers. So in a way it’s prudent that there is no big reveal and satisfying answer to tie up this novel in a way that would avoid this criticism.
“For hours I was as fragile as the shell of a battery egg. If I’d touched anything, I’d have shattered and pale yellow yolk would have slithered out of me and puddled on the floor.” p. 138
Insomnia is frustrating. We’re irritable and irrational, we can’t concentrate and find making decisions difficult. In Nod, Paul finds himself a lone sleeper in a world of suffering people. Barnes takes us through the weeks that are a close medical understanding of how merciless sleep deprivation is. There are horrifying moments, the ugliest side of humanity reveals it’s face in cult like groups following the word of a fool, and combatants pretending to be ‘sleepers’ by donning make up and going through the motions of lying still under blankets.
The narrator Paul is an etymologist, working on a book about words that have been lost called ‘Nod’. He struggles to like people even before the world has ended, but he still achieves some beautiful insights into humanity and relationships. He watches his longterm girlfriend Tanya, crumble before him as sleep deprivation turns her into a shadow of who he knew her to be, and despite the odds stacked against him, attempts to keep a sense of normal or try for safety. In other words, Paul is doing his best with very limited means.
I can understand entirely why this novel wouldn’t be for everyone. But honestly I really enjoyed it, it was beautifully written, and I liked Paul. I thought it an engaging read and even if it was disturbing and disorientating at times and it ended where I really didn’t anticipate I couldn’t leave it alone. I imagine I’d read it again.