NOD – Adrian Barnes – Audible Book Review by Pat V.
Visions of a post-apocalyptic world have fascinated authors and readers alike for centuries. Whether caused by external forces or some self-destructive streak of mankind, the idea that our day-to-day life could radically change and that we might be forced into a primal struggle to survive, never ceases to tantalize. The end of civilization has come in many forms in different works of fiction. We had the sad, grey, post nuclear world of Nevil Shute’s excellent “On the Beach” and Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”, the alien life-forms that decimated populations in many of H G Wells’s, John Wyndham’s and Stephen King’s novels and the more dramatic virus-crazed zombie attacks of Robert Kirkman’s “Rise of the Governor” and M R Carey’s “Girl with all the Gifts”.
The imagined apocalypse often reflects the preoccupations of the age. The heightened nuclear threat in the 1950s and 60s saw the publication of Pat Frank’s “Alas, Babylon” and Robert Merle’s “Malevil”, whereas the concerns raised by the catastrophic effect man is having on the environment are central to works like John Christopher’s “Death of Grass” and J G Ballard’s “The Drought”. In “NOD”, Adrian Barnes presents a new take on what might lead to the end of civilisation as we know it. Not bombs, not aliens, not illness, the death knoll for the world is silently sounded here when people lose the ability to sleep.
More literary than many books of this genre, Barnes poses a lot of questions for his readers but leaves us to wonder about the answers. Set in Vancouver, NOD is the story of Paul, a misanthropic author, writing a non-fiction book about obscure words and their meaning, who wakes up one morning to discover that 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 have all shared the same mysterious dream. When the same thing happens the following nights, it becomes obvious that something has changed in the natural order. Paul’s girlfriend, Tanya, a non-sleeper, learns from the internet that after six days of absolute sleep deprivation, she can expect that psychosis will set in. Within four weeks, she will probably be dead.
Trying to understand this new reality and break the cycle of sleeplessness, they become aware that the world around them is starting to implode. Communications have broken down, food is in short supply and all around them they are witness to scenes of mindless violence. Strangest of all, Paul realises that the manuscript he was writing on the etymology of extinct words has become a surrogate bible for those who cannot sleep and that he is seen as a prophet who can save them.
Though “NOD” has its share of violent scenes and pseudo-religious persecution, Barnes is more interested in creating a labyrinth of ideas, where we, like Paul, try to weave our way to understand how and why this new world-order has come about. Is Paul and his book in some way responsible? Why are some people affected and others not? What is the significance of the strange dream of the Sleepers? Barnes does not gives us all of the answers and, leaving us tantalised, makes the book all the more memorable. NOD is an intriguing novel with engages and frustrates us but never loses our interest. The reader here, Tim Beckman, is excellent and captures the sense of danger and confusion that confronts the characters.
This version is available from audible.co.uk and lasts 6h 12mins.